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Cicada Emergence - A Natural Wonder

Tim Gibb, Entomology Department, Purdue University

With amazing predictability large masses of periodical cicadas emerge all together for one month every 17 or 13 years, depending on the group. Hoosiers often call these wonders of the insect world 17-year or 13-year locusts. During these spectacular emergence events, millions of unique (ugly) looking cicadas emerge from the ground where they have been feeding for years on tree roots, crawl up the trunks of trees and hatch into the adult stage. Witnessing a hatch of periodical cicadas, or just listening to the noise that accompanies these insects is an experience not soon to be forgotten. The male cicada makes a very loud, high pitched, song by using a drum-like organ on the sides its body. The noise is thought to be a mating call, to gain the attention of any female that might be passing by. This may be the cicada equivalent of construction workers calling out, "Yo baby", "Hey Mama", or "Whaddsup chick" when females walk by, the difference being that a cicada may realize an occasional success. The irritating thing about the cicada call is that when thousands of them are calling all at once, the resulting ear-piercing incessant, cadence of the group can be almost deafening and certainly obnoxious - even by construction worker standards.

The emergence of one 13-yr brood is expected beginning in late May or early June in twenty-one Indiana counties as far north as Fountain, Tippecanoe and Fayette counties. In 2004 a 17-year brood is expected throughout the entire state.

Damage to plants caused by cicadas is usually minimal. Some newly transplanted or very susceptible trees may be in danger as the female cicada cuts into tender twigs to lay her eggs. Such trees can be covered with a protective netting during the 4-week duration of the cicadas adult phase.

Some natural controls exist for cicadas. Birds and squirrels will feast on them during their emergence periods, but because of the huge numbers emerging, even animals engorging on them makes an insignificant dent in the population. Some people have reported that they are edible. They say that they look forward to the emergence of cicadas claiming that, "they are a delicacy and when fried in butter, they have a distinct ....well .... buttery sort of flavor".

For more information on periodical cicadas in Indiana, please refer to: http://www.entm.purdue.edu/entomology/ext/targets/e-series/EseriesPDF/E-47.pdf (PDF 103K).

Click on the small image to view a larger image.

Cicada on Branch Cicada-Damaged Oak Tree
Cicada on Tree Branch
(Photo by J. Davidson)
Cicada-Damaged Oak Tree
(Photo by John Obermeyer)

The information given herein is supplied with the understanding that no discrimination is intended and no endorsement by the Purdue University Cooperative Extension Service is implied. Any person using products listed assumes full responsibility for their use in accordance with current direction of the manufacturer. Purdue University is an equal opportunity/equal access institution.

Information listed is valid only for the state of Indiana.

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The Plant & Pest Diagnostic Laboratory at Purdue University.