Have you heard the buzz? Pennsylvania is about to be invaded by the largest brood of cicadas seen since 2004. Read on for everything you need to know about these temporary visitors, how to prepare for them and how to manage them.
Cicadas are present in Pennsylvania every late spring and summer. Annual cicadas emerge from the ground after one to nine years as underground larvae. What makes 2021 different is the arrival of periodical cicadas, which spend 17 years underground and emerge in huge numbers at the same time. The estimated size of this group of cicadas, known as Brood X, runs from hundreds of billions to trillions.
Brood X has been under our feet since 2004, where they feed on sap from plant roots. Starting in late May the hordes of cicadas will be fully mature and will emerge from underground for a lifespan of two to four weeks. They will impact an estimated 15 states plus the District of Columbia, including Pennsylvania and all of the states surrounding the Commonwealth.
Brood X cicadas will emerge from the ground, leaving emergence holes of about half an inch wide and 3 inches deep. They will not return to or enlarge these holes and your lawn shouldn’t be damaged at all by emergence.
Cicadas pose no harm to humans. They aren’t venomous and neither bite nor sting but could in rare circumstances attempt to pierce humans, mistaking them for trees. If a cicada lands on you, simply brush it away. They won’t bite animals either but you’ll want to keep an eye on your pets to make sure they’re not eating cicadas. They’re not poisonous but their exoskeletons can be difficult to digest, causing stomach pains for dogs and cats.
After mating, female cicadas will find tender young branches to lay their eggs. They will gouge grooves into the branch and lay 20-30 eggs inside in a nest. To prevent damage, you may want to avoid planting any new trees or transplanting saplings until the fall. Don’t despair if you do have any tender plants, though. A physical barrier such as a lightweight net will deter cicadas from nesting in vulnerable plantings.
If there’s one thing you already know about cicadas it’s probably that they are notoriously noisy. Their loud songs serve as a form of communication, mating call, and defense mechanism. When we say loud, we mean loud! In large groups, cicada song can reach 90-100 decibels. That’s as loud as a lawn mower, dirt bike, tractor, or even a low-flying plane. What does that mean for you? Well, if you don’t have noise-cancelling headphones this might be the time to invest in a pair.
Cicadas may mistake the sound of your outdoor power equipment for their own song and become a nuisance. To avoid this, try to mow in the early morning or at dusk as cicadas are less active at these times.
There is no need to use pesticides for cicadas. They won’t be around for long, don’t spread disease, and pose no physical harm. If you want to remove them from your house or patio, try vert lightly spraying them with a hose. That should be enough to send them flying.
Just as soon as they arrived, the cicadas will be gone. After four to six weeks their life cycle will be complete. It’s a good idea to check your gutters at the end of the infestation to make sure no blockage has formed. Cicada carcasses will not harm your lawn and could even provide some fertilizing benefits. If you want to remove carcasses for aesthetic purposes or to keep them from pets, you can bury them in a hole, put them out for trash pickup, or even toss them into a compost pile.