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Cicada invasion begins to wind down

May 31st, 2011

Cicada invasion begins to wind down

By Dennis Sherer
Staff Writer

There’s good news for anyone bugged by millions of cicadas that have kept the Tennessee Valley buzzing this spring.

Populations of the cigar-shaped, red-eyed insects that were last seen in the region 13 years ago are waning and the bugs are expected to disappear within the next two weeks, said Chris Becker, a regional agent for the Alabama Cooperative Extension System’s Florence operation.

“I can tell by the decline in the number of phone calls that I’m getting about cicadas that they’re beginning to wind down,” Becker said. “Plus, I can tell when I drive around that there are fewer out there because I’m not hearing as many as I did just a few days ago.”

The periodical cicadas that have invaded the Tennessee Valley spend most of their lives underground, emerging only to mate and lay eggs before dying. After developing into adults and emerging from the soil, a cicada lives for about five weeks, Becker said. The insects began emerging from the soil in north Alabama about a month ago.

While their life span as adults is short, their annoyance factor is huge for many residents.

Many area residents have noted they could not carry on conversation outdoors because of buzzing of cicadas in their neighborhood. The buzzing noise is produced by male cicadas attempting to attract a mate.

“They’re pretty loud,” said Tuscumbia resident John Robert Townsend. “Their buzzing is starting to get aggravating.”

He said the buzzing is extremely loud around his home in the Valdosta neighborhood.

Becker said he was driving through Lawrence County last week and the cicadas were so loud he could hear them inside his vehicle with the windows rolled up, the air conditioner on high and the radio turned up loud.

Tony Cox, of Center Star, said cicadas are so numerous in his neighborhood that it is difficult to walk on his driveway without stepping on them. “Every step you take, you hear a crunch. They’re everywhere.”

While annoying to some, cicadas are not a threat to humans, Becker said.

“They don’t bite or sting,” he said. “There’s no reason to be afraid of them.”

The insects can damage trees when the females bore holes in the tip of branches where they lay their eggs. The tips of the branches can be killed.

The invasion of the periodical cicadas is creating a feeding frenzy for birds and fish.

“I’ve seen a lot of birds the past few weeks with cicadas in their beaks,” Becker said.

Cox, an avid fishermen, said he has seen bass and other fish feeding on cicadas. He added anglers can take advantage of the situation by using large popping bugs and other top water baits that resemble a cicada.

“Anything on top of the water that looks like a cicada is probably going to catch fish,” Cox said.

As the cicada eggs hatch, the nymphs will fall to the ground where they will burrow in to begin feeding on sap from roots until they become adults for the next emergence of periodical cicadas in the spring of 2024, Becker said.

In the meantime, dog days cicadas will emerge every year during the summer.

Unlike their periodical counterparts, the summertime cicadas have brown eyes.

Dennis Sherer can be reached at 256-740-5746 or dennis.sherer@TimesDaily.com.

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