Goodbye to the cicadas until 2027

Published 12:00 am Sunday, June 15, 2014

I had me a mini-mystery going one day last week until the “duh” moment hit. I was cleaning out the dirt-floored chicken house that set fowl-less for a couple of years. There were small holes in the floor everywhere, including the feed room. The holes were the size of the recent cicada emergence holes. But the wood and shingle roof would stop any cicada larva falling from overhead. Ah, hah; the bug larva dropped down and went underground thirteen years ago. The chicken house is circa 2007 and right next to a large water oak for afternoon shade. The larva were down there on the oak roots when the building went up.

I had suggested making our periodic cicada nuisance educational by showing children the small white structure under each wing of the male cicada. These are membranes called tymbals and the male can contract each one as fast as fifty times per second. That’s where the racket came from. Now that the tymbals have gone quiet for thirteen years, we’ve mostly gone quiet about the noisy cicadas.

One cicada sign still out there is leftover egg-depositing sites on live twigs of trees and shrubs. Most woody stem plants other than the pines can be used for egg sites. Female cicadas selected branches about the diameter of a pencil to host their eggs and newborn. They cut slits in the tender bark and laid multiple eggs in each cut. Thirteen years ago I found lots of cicada egg sites in fruit trees. The small branches looked as if they had been hacked on with a blade. The only plant health risk is dieback of heavily infested twigs. It is possible, but very rare, for a young shrub or tree to be killed by cicada egg-laying. I haven’t found any hacked up twigs this time, but I haven’t looked very hard either.

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Now for the bad news for people who freak out over cicada noise; you might hear some next year, too. Our cicada brood is number XXII, one with a small geographic range but with a high concentration of the bugs. Brood XXIII that emerges next year is called the Lower Mississippi Valley Brood. Its range flares out east and west from the Mississippi River from Baton Rouge on up well into Illinois. The cicadas are less concentrated and rather spotty in emergence within the range. So next year’s brood includes this year’s area and a lot more, but with much less odds of us having a strong showing. I recall back in 2002 Bovina area folks reporting hearing cicadas for the second year in a row but the sound was way over from Hinds County. I asked about it and was told that was a different brood than ours.

And as a finale for cicadas until 2027, just know cicadas are considered a dietary delicacy in some areas of the world. I read that in cicada cuisine the females are preferred because they are meatier. Let’s all try some in ’27.

Terry Rector writes for the Warren County Soil and Water Conservation District, 601-636-7679 ext. 3.