EDITOR'S NOTE: Because of the overwhelming number of inquiries from baltimoresun.com readers, The Sun's Frank Roylance has joined Michael Stroh in answering your questions about cicadas.
Betty, Baltimore: When will the cicadas surface? How long will they last?
Jesse Elkins, Reisterstown: What do cicadas eat?
Stroh: Periodical cicada nymphs suckle on tree roots during their 13 or 17
years underground. Once they emerge, the adults can also tap into the tree
to suck down its fluid, says naturalist John Zyla. But they're generally more concerned with looking for a mate than eating, he adds.
Eric Czajkowski, Parkton: What is the relationship between cicadas and
locusts? Are they the same thing?
Stroh: Cicadas have no relation to locusts, which are technically a species
Jesse Rodriguez, Austin, Texas: I read that cicadas carry bubonic plague.
What can we do to avoid the Black Death?
Stroh: Fleas carried bubonic plague, not cicadas. While they may be big,
ugly and uncoordinated, experts say that cicadas are also harmless.
Mary E. Windholtz, Cincinnati: Does anyone remember how bad they stink when
they die? My whole yard smelled like raw hamburger when left out to sit in
Stroh: Yum! Like all living things, cicadas decompose when they die. The
best thing to do is grab a rake and hold your nose.
TJ, Ashburn, Va.: Does the frozen ground affect them?
Stroh: Cicadas can survive freezing temperatures underground. But they only
emerge when the soil is warm, typically a relatively toasty 64 degrees
John C. O'Conor, Ruxton: What's the best way to protect a small tree such
as a two-year-old Japanese maple? Would you recommend a cheesecloth
Stroh: Most experts recommend placing netting over the crown of the tree and
tying it off at the bottom. The trick is to keep the cicadas out of the
branches, where the females lay their eggs. An older tree can typically
survive the trauma, but trees two years old or younger are more vulnerable.
Jed Faroe, Purcellville, Va.: Why do Cicadas appear exactly every 17 years?
What keeps them on schedule? Do they ever appear sooner or later?
Stroh: The short answer is: Nobody knows. Some biologists speculate the
periodical cicada's long life cycle evolved as a way to dodge predators.
There's also some evidence that the insects might be keeping track of the
years by monitoring chemicals circulating through the trees. But nobody
knows the answer.
Mike, Columbia: Will the cicadas bother people in the infield for
Stroh: It's unlikely. Cicadas usually only appear in places where there are
lots of trees.
Kate, Maryland: Do they bite and aren't they going to hurt animals?
Stroh: Cicadas don't bite. And they don't hurt animals -- at least not
intentionally. Dogs and cats love to munch on cicadas. And sometimes they
eat so many they vomit.
Jackie Adams, Aberdeen: Are they really going to be so bad that they will
be flying in my hair and landing on me?
Stroh: They might if you live in a place where lots of Brood X cicadas call
Kim Wu, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada: Is it true that cicadas cycle every
17 years? I remember growing up in Asia (Malaysia) and they come around
Stroh: There are two general types of cicadas. Annual or "dog day" cicadas
are the ones you can hear each year on late summer afternoons. They live
all over the world. Periodical cicadas, on the other hand, only emerge
every 13 or 17 years, depending on the species. Periodicals are only found
in Eastern North America.
Matt, Baltimore: How long are cicadas?
Stroh: Adult cicadas are typically 1 to 2 inches long.
Michelle, Baltimore: Do you suggest the people stay at home from work or
travel if they take mass transit?
Stroh: Cicadas should have no impact on commuters.
Hadassah Beck, Baltimore: I have only been in Baltimore for about 6 years
and am deathly afraid of bugs in general. How bad does it truly get and how
long will it really last?
Stroh: How bad it gets depends on where you live and how many trees you
have around you. But take solace in this fact: The bugs don't last long. By
July 1 or so they should all be dead.
Maria, Pikesville: Will my puppy get sick if she eats any? ?
Stroh: If she pigs out, she might, so you might want to keep your dog away
from cicadas. Although vets say that even animals that do indulge aren't
likely to die. It's more like a case of doggie indigestion.
Cathy, Louisville, Ky.: I am scared of the cicadas. Do they stay in the
trees or swarm around you?
Stroh: Cicadas don't swarm in the sense that angry bees swarm. Cicadas are
notoriously bad fliers and, like a drunk on the sidewalk, are more likely
to bump into you by accident than with any kind of ill intent.
Dillon, Ferndale: If the temperature the cicadas need to come out of the
ground is 64 degrees, shouldn't they be out? It got in the 80s yesterday.
Stroh: You're right. It has been hot recently. But air temperature and soil
temperature are two different things and it takes time for the soil to warm
Lala, Westminster: What geographic area can we expect to see the cicadas in?
Roylance: In Maryland, anywhere except western Garrett County, Southern
Maryland and most of the Eastern Shore. Brood X cicadas will also be
emerging in parts of 15 other states from New Jersey to Tennessee.
L.S., Philadelphia: How can you control or eliminate the cicadas? Is there any
device installed outdoors that attracts and kills them?
Roylance: Pesticides will only kill other beneficial insects and threaten
the pets and wildlife who eat cicadas, and then thousands of the survivors
next door will invade your yard. Time will kill them all for free in six
weeks, and their offspring won't be back until 2021.
Diane, Kensington: Can you create a habitat for them to watch them emerge?
We found a ton of the nymphs in our backyard. Or is it really that easy to
see them emerge on the trees outside?
Roylance: If you have lots of nymphs,
you will see plenty of them as they climb the trees, molt and transform
into adults. They'll be everywhere.
BJ Walas, Columbia: How did a cicada fall down into our fireplace last
weekend? It was a full-grown one and had shed its former skin (yuck). It
was captured and disposed of pronto ... Those beady red eyes? Eek! I'll
never forget that night! This was on May 1 or 2, so this guy got an
Roylance: There are always a few early risers. They usually meet an unhappy
Nicole, Baltimore: Do cicadas carry germs?
Roylance: They are not disease vectors. But they have just crawled out of
the dirt, so it is advisable to clean and cook them before eating.
Joann, Hampstead: How can I keep my wimpy teen-age daughters from freaking
out about the cicadas? They're convinced it'll be like some horror film.
Roylance: Pluck a few of the empty exoskeletons from your trees and bring
them inside for the girls to see and touch, then catch a male adult and let
them hold him and hear him buzz. One on one, they're pretty cool.
Gennette, Ellicott City: Should I protect my peach tree from the cicada?
Roylance: Nurseries say only the youngest trees are at risk of significant
damage as the female cicadas slit the bark of small twigs and lay their
eggs. For the rest, the twig death is only a minor pruning.
Veronica Hall, Ellicott City: Should we not plant a new mulch bed with
shrubs until this passes?
Roylance: The plants aren't at risk, but wait until the end of May anyway.
Digging in the bed will injure emerging nymphs.
Marjorie Banks, Baltimore: Will the cicadas eat or cause any damage to
flowers in gardens, boxwood shrub, azaleas or any other shrubs? Do I need to
cover my hostas?
Roylance: Adult cicadas can't chew, but they will suck moisture from soft
plant parts to replace fluids lost to evaporation, which does no harm. Any
holes in your hostas are probably from slugs.
Brendan Davis, Annandale, Va.: Is there a chart somewhere that shows the
years that each brood of 17-year and 13-year cicadas emerges? It would be
interesting to see what years have no cicada emergence at all, and what
years have an intersecting emergence of 17-year and 13-year cicadas.
Roylance: There are no emergences in 2005 or 2006. For a complete rundown,
go to http://cicadamania.com/
Bob Friday, Owings Mills: Do cicadas damage trees and, if so, what can be
done to prevent this? I have a new dogwood and old red maple.
Roylance: Damage to small twigs during egg-laying will cause "flagging,"
the wilting and death of leaves at the ends of branches, but it's no
problem for established trees. After the males start singing, you can
protect very young trees with cheesecloth or netting.
M.Benton, Maryland: Other than eating of the trees and noise making, do
they affect people in any way?
Roylance: Cicadas have no chewing mouth parts, can't bite or sting. They're
non-toxic and affect only those people with irrational fears of insects, or
a bad reaction to cicadas that blunder into their cars while driving.
Barbara Steele, Parkville: What is the range of this cicada experience? Do
they get these in Asia, Europe, Australia?
Roylance: There are cicadas all over the world, but only eastern North
America has the long-lived periodical cicadas that emerge every 13 or 17
years. This year's emergence of Brood X is the largest in the world,
extending across parts of 16 states from New Jersey to Tennessee.
Richard Veilleux, Canterbury, Conn.: I know there will be fewer cicadas
downtown, but I'm curious how one defines "fewer." I'm coming into town
Memorial Day weekend along with 25,000 of my closest friends for the NCAA
lacrosse tournament, and we wonder whether we should have screen tents to
save the tailgating parties.
Roylance: Cicadas shouldn't be a problem out on the tarmac at M&T Bank
Kathy, Lockland, Ohio: Do they get in your mouth?
Roylance: Only after they've been properly battered and fried.
DeShanda L. Eason, Randallstown: It seems that many people agree that they
are not harmful, however, they affect many peoples' activities of daily
living and therefore the issue should be taken seriously and methods aimed
at reducing/maintaining the outbreak/infestations and/or swarm of these
insects should be developed.
Roylance: Why stamp out an infrequent natural phenomenon that aerates our
soils, provides a bonanza for birds and squirrels and compost for the
gardens? Our human instinct to "control" nature is not always well-advised.
Carol, Fallston: My home in Harford County was only 3 years old the
last time the cicadas came. We did not have them in our neighborhood. Will
we escape again?
Roylance: If there were no adults there 17 years ago, there were no eggs
laid, and no nymphs hatched to return in 2004. It takes a long time for
cicadas to colonize new territory.
Monica, Columbia: Although I was 8 years old during the last cicada
invasion, I have not forgotten our little buggy friends because they
smelled so bad. Will Brood X stink as well?
Roylance: Cicadas have not changed much since the last Ice Age. When they
die, they decompose and stink up the joint.
Kurt Kroncke, Baltimore: Will there be cicadas in all parts of Maryland?
Roylance: No. Western Garrett County, southern Maryland and most of the
Eastern Shore are outside Brood X's territory.
Mildred, Baltimore: Do cicadas fly into houses through the chimney? Do we
need nets over our chimneys? Someone told me to cover my chimney.
Roylance: Not likely, unless they die and fall in. They're trying to find
each other in the treetops, so your chimney is the last place they want to
Susan Lipinski, Bel Air: On May 30, will the cicada numbers on Long Island,
N.Y., be as bad as predicted for Baltimore. Why are some locations worse
Roylance: Brood X doesn't extend past New Jersey. But Brood XIV
will be emerging on Long Island in 2008.
Monique Perkins, Baltimore: I'm considering planting some rose bushes and
azaleas. Will the cicada destroy them?
Stroh: Flowers and shrubs are usually safe, since cicadas do most of their
living and loving in tree limbs. Only owners of young, newly-planted trees
need to be concerned.
Angela Pell, Columbia: Will there gradually be an increase in quantity of
cicadas? I am getting married in Savage on May 30 and was wondering if
there will be as many cicadas on May 20 as on our wedding date. We haven't
formally decided to move the ceremony indoors.
Roylance: There will be more as May goes by, and more of them will be
singing. There should be quite a racket by the 30th.
Rob, York, Pa: Are cicadas good bait for fly fishing trout?
Roylance: You bet. If they're not already stuffed, the fish will love 'em.
Annette Klein, Baltimore: Do the cicadas make their horrendous noise only
when the sun shines? Does the noise last from sunrise to sunset? Is it less
on cloudy days?
Roylance: Cicadas are less active at night, and thankfully they'll quiet
down in time for people to go to sleep. Cloudy days won't make much
Father James McCurry, O.F.M. Conv., Ellicott City: I really do not have a
question; however I wrote a wee limerick about the cicada, and thought you might enjoy it. Here goes:
"There was a cicada named Ada.
It sat on my roasted potatuh.
At lunch as I munched,
I heard a big crunch.
Poor Ada Cicada! I ate huh!"
Thank you for your questions.
The Sun's Frank D. Roylance and Michael Stroh answer your questions.
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