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Cicada Q&A

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EDITOR'S NOTE: Because of the overwhelming number of inquiries frombaltimoresun.com readers, The Sun's Frank Roylance has joined Michael Strohin answering your questions about cicadas.

Betty, Baltimore: When will the cicadas surface? How long will they last?

Stroh: Some cicadas have already started to surface. By next week, someMarylanders will probably start hearing singing males. By July 1, they'llbe gone -- except for billions of rotting cicada carcasses.

Jesse Elkins, Reisterstown: What do cicadas eat?

Stroh: Periodical cicada nymphs suckle on tree roots during their 13 or 17years underground. Once they emerge, the adults can also tap into the treeto 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 andlocusts? Are they the same thing?

Stroh: Cicadas have no relation to locusts, which are technically a speciesof grasshopper.

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 whenthey die? My whole yard smelled like raw hamburger when left out to sit inthe sun.

Stroh: Yum! Like all living things, cicadas decompose when they die. Thebest 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 onlyemerge when the soil is warm, typically a relatively toasty 64 degreesFahrenheit.

John C. O'Conor, Ruxton: What's the best way to protect a small tree suchas a two-year-old Japanese maple? Would you recommend a cheeseclothcovering?

Stroh: Most experts recommend placing netting over the crown of the tree andtying it off at the bottom. The trick is to keep the cicadas out of thebranches, where the females lay their eggs. An older tree can typicallysurvive 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 theperiodical 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 theyears by monitoring chemicals circulating through the trees. But nobodyknows the answer.

Mike, Columbia: Will the cicadas bother people in the infield forPreakness?

Stroh: It's unlikely. Cicadas usually only appear in places where there arelots 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 notintentionally. Dogs and cats love to munch on cicadas. And sometimes theyeat so many they vomit.

Jackie Adams, Aberdeen: Are they really going to be so bad that they willbe flying in my hair and landing on me?

Stroh: They might if you live in a place where lots of Brood X cicadas callhome.

Kim Wu, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada: Is it true that cicadas cycle every17 years? I remember growing up in Asia (Malaysia) and they come aroundevery year.

Stroh: There are two general types of cicadas. Annual or "dog day" cicadasare the ones you can hear each year on late summer afternoons. They liveall over the world. Periodical cicadas, on the other hand, only emergeevery 13 or 17 years, depending on the species. Periodicals are only foundin 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 ortravel 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 yearsand am deathly afraid of bugs in general. How bad does it truly get and howlong will it really last?

Stroh: How bad it gets depends on where you live and how many trees youhave around you. But take solace in this fact: The bugs don't last long. ByJuly 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 awayfrom cicadas. Although vets say that even animals that do indulge aren'tlikely to die. It's more like a case of doggie indigestion.

Cathy, Louisville, Ky.: I am scared of the cicadas. Do they stay in thetrees or swarm around you?

Stroh: Cicadas don't swarm in the sense that angry bees swarm. Cicadas arenotoriously bad fliers and, like a drunk on the sidewalk, are more likelyto bump into you by accident than with any kind of ill intent.

Dillon, Ferndale: If the temperature the cicadas need to come out of theground 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 soiltemperature are two different things and it takes time for the soil to warmup.

Lala, Westminster: What geographic area can we expect to see the cicadas in?

Roylance: In Maryland, anywhere except western Garrett County, SouthernMaryland and most of the Eastern Shore. Brood X cicadas will also beemerging in parts of 15 other states from New Jersey to Tennessee.

L.S., Philadelphia: How can you control or eliminate the cicadas? Is there anydevice installed outdoors that attracts and kills them?

Roylance: Pesticides will only kill other beneficial insects and threatenthe pets and wildlife who eat cicadas, and then thousands of the survivorsnext door will invade your yard. Time will kill them all for free in sixweeks, 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 tosee 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 transforminto adults. They'll be everywhere.

BJ Walas, Columbia: How did a cicada fall down into our fireplace lastweekend? It was a full-grown one and had shed its former skin (yuck). Itwas captured and disposed of pronto ... Those beady red eyes? Eek! I'llnever forget that night! This was on May 1 or 2, so this guy got anearly start.

Roylance: There are always a few early risers. They usually meet an unhappyfate.

Nicole, Baltimore: Do cicadas carry germs?

Roylance: They are not disease vectors. But they have just crawled out ofthe dirt, so it is advisable to clean and cook them before eating.

Joann, Hampstead: How can I keep my wimpy teen-age daughters from freakingout 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 bringthem inside for the girls to see and touch, then catch a male adult and letthem 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 significantdamage as the female cicadas slit the bark of small twigs and lay theireggs. For the rest, the twig death is only a minor pruning.

Veronica Hall, Ellicott City: Should we not plant a new mulch bed withshrubs 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 toflowers in gardens, boxwood shrub, azaleas or any other shrubs? Do I need tocover my hostas?

Roylance: Adult cicadas can't chew, but they will suck moisture from softplant parts to replace fluids lost to evaporation, which does no harm. Anyholes in your hostas are probably from slugs.

Brendan Davis, Annandale, Va.: Is there a chart somewhere that shows theyears that each brood of 17-year and 13-year cicadas emerges? It would beinteresting to see what years have no cicada emergence at all, and whatyears 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 bedone 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 noproblem for established trees. After the males start singing, you canprotect very young trees with cheesecloth or netting.

M.Benton, Maryland: Other than eating of the trees and noise making, dothey affect people in any way?

Roylance: Cicadas have no chewing mouth parts, can't bite or sting. They'renon-toxic and affect only those people with irrational fears of insects, ora bad reaction to cicadas that blunder into their cars while driving.

Barbara Steele, Parkville: What is the range of this cicada experience? Dothey get these in Asia, Europe, Australia?

Roylance: There are cicadas all over the world, but only eastern NorthAmerica has the long-lived periodical cicadas that emerge every 13 or 17years. 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 cicadasdowntown, but I'm curious how one defines "fewer." I'm coming into townMemorial Day weekend along with 25,000 of my closest friends for the NCAAlacrosse tournament, and we wonder whether we should have screen tents tosave the tailgating parties.

Roylance: Cicadas shouldn't be a problem out on the tarmac at M&T BankStadium.

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 theyare not harmful, however, they affect many peoples' activities of dailyliving and therefore the issue should be taken seriously and methods aimedat reducing/maintaining the outbreak/infestations and/or swarm of theseinsects should be developed.

Roylance: Why stamp out an infrequent natural phenomenon that aerates oursoils, provides a bonanza for birds and squirrels and compost for thegardens? Our human instinct to "control" nature is not always well-advised.

Carol, Fallston: My home in Harford County was only 3 years old thelast time the cicadas came. We did not have them in our neighborhood. Willwe escape again?

Roylance: If there were no adults there 17 years ago, there were no eggslaid, and no nymphs hatched to return in 2004. It takes a long time forcicadas to colonize new territory.

Monica, Columbia: Although I was 8 years old during the last cicadainvasion, I have not forgotten our little buggy friends because theysmelled so bad. Will Brood X stink as well?

Roylance: Cicadas have not changed much since the last Ice Age. When theydie, 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 theEastern Shore are outside Brood X's territory.

Mildred, Baltimore: Do cicadas fly into houses through the chimney? Do weneed nets over our chimneys? Someone told me to cover my chimney.

Roylance: Not likely, unless they die and fall in. They're trying to findeach other in the treetops, so your chimney is the last place they want tobe.

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 worsethan others?

Roylance: Brood X doesn't extend past New Jersey. But Brood XIVwill be emerging on Long Island in 2008.

Monique Perkins, Baltimore: I'm considering planting some rose bushes andazaleas. Will the cicada destroy them?

Stroh: Flowers and shrubs are usually safe, since cicadas do most of theirliving and loving in tree limbs. Only owners of young, newly-planted treesneed to be concerned.

Angela Pell, Columbia: Will there gradually be an increase in quantity ofcicadas? I am getting married in Savage on May 30 and was wondering ifthere will be as many cicadas on May 20 as on our wedding date. We haven'tformally decided to move the ceremony indoors.

Roylance: There will be more as May goes by, and more of them will besinging. 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 onlywhen the sun shines? Does the noise last from sunrise to sunset? Is it lesson cloudy days?

Roylance: Cicadas are less active at night, and thankfully they'll quietdown in time for people to go to sleep. Cloudy days won't make muchdifference.

Father James McCurry, O.F.M. Conv., Ellicott City: I really do not have aquestion; 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.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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