Cicadas

Cicadas are a type of insect that develops on the roots of trees and shrubs. A periodic cicada species (scientifically known as Magicicada septendecim) that appear every 17 years is due to arrive in New York City in 2013 in the late spring and early summer. Large groups of adult cicadas of this species will emerge from the ground and climb into the tree canopy where they feed, mate, lay eggs, and die.

What do cicadas look like?

Cicadas are large, colorful, fly-like bugs with large eyes and tented wings.

What is the life cycle of a cicada?

Cicada nymphs develop underground, feeding on root sap of various trees and shrubs. Underground development likely takes between two to five years. Periodical cicadas, such as the ones now appearing on the East coast of the United States, emerge in large numbers, every 13th or 17th year.

When fully-grown, cicadas emerge from the soil. Adults are present for about four to six weeks following emergence and then die.

Are cicadas dangerous to people or pets?

Generally no, but you should monitor dogs and cats who may try to eat the cicadas. While it is not harmful to ingest cicadas, they may pose a choking hazard to pets. If pesticides have been used on cicadas, pets that eat them can be poisoned.

Why are cicadas so noisy?

Male cicadas use a special membrane to echo a series of clicks through their abdomens to attract females to mate with. Since so many cicadas emerge from the soil at once, the sound can be loud.

Can cicadas harm the plants in my garden?

Unlike grasshoppers and caterpillars, cicadas lack mouthparts that can chew, so they can't eat leaves, fruits or vegetables. However, they may do some damage to young fragile plants by laying eggs in them. Owners of young plants may want to protect them with netting. Spraying plants regularly with water is helpful as well.

Cicadas may flock to you if you are using a power tool or lawnmower, as it sounds like their own mating calls. Cicadas are less active in the early morning or near dusk - those might be good times to use a lawnmower if necessary.

More Resources

  • Radiolab's Cicada Tracker : An opportunity for citizens to help scientists track and predict cicada occurrence

Some of this material has been excerpted from the Cicadamania and the National Climatic Data Center of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration . Image courtesy of the US Forest Service.