Their sounds will be unmistakable! Brood X of the 17-year cicada will rise from the ground in parts of Northern Virginia, West Virginia, and much of Maryland around the second week of May when our ground temperature reaches 64 degrees at a certain depth. The last time we’ve seen this particular brood of cicada was back in the spring of 2004 when Eli Manning was drafted as a rookie in the NFL. While their amazing 17-year life cycle is of keen interest to all, this is a notable learning event to share with children. The cicada poses no danger to humans and very little to plants.
The cicada nymphs have been underground for the last seventeen years, tunneling through the soil and feeding on the sap of tree roots. This spring, they will emerge and attach themselves to trees, where they will quickly molt into their adult, winged form. They will mate, lay their eggs, and die off within a few weeks. The young nymphs will then hatch about six weeks later, dropping to the ground and burrowing deep for another seventeen years. We won’t see this brood again until 2038!
Should you be worried about your plants during this year’s cicada emergence? Not really. Cicadas themselves do not feed on your plant material. Where you may see some damage is on the limbs of trees. Female cicadas lay their eggs by using an ovipositor to gouge long slits into the twigs of trees, where they will deposit thousands of eggs. These slits in the twigs will weaken some of the branches and may cause the limbs to break and hang from the tree, a process known as flagging. This may appear unsightly on your trees for a little bit, but these limbs will eventually fall off and your trees will easily fill these branches out again over time. Think of this process as nature’s way of pruning your tree.
If you have small, newly planted trees a covering of plastic insect mesh netting can help protect them from damage, but other than that no insecticides or repellents are necessary.
To learn more about the 17-year cicada and its amazing lifespan, visit the University of Maryland Extension’s cicada page. Want to experience the periodic cicada’s full lifespan in video form? Check out the amazing video below from Samuel Orr: