This spring and early summer could be buzzing with the activities of the 13-year periodical cicadas in many upstate counties. The last emergence of the 13-year cicada was in 1998 and since that time, the nymphs have been happily feeding underground on plant roots with their piercing-sucking mouthparts. The nymphs emerge from the ground en masse typically during the nighttime and find a vertical place (often a tree trunk) to shed their skin for the last time. After emerging from the shed skin, the newly transformed, soft-winged adult will pump blood into the wing veins and hold on to the shed skin or tree until its wings and body have hardened. Once the morning comes, the cicadas will move higher up the tree so their bodies can completely harden. Once hardened, the males will begin to sing to attract females for mating. It may take up to 5 days after the nymphs have emerged from the ground before the male singing can be heard and mating occurs. This mass emergence is expected to occur in late April to May and can occur over a one to two week period. Under one tree, there can be as many as 20,000-30,000 emerging nymphs!
Unlike the green winged dog-day cicadas which we typically see statewide every year, the periodical cicadas are about 1 ½ inch long, have red eyes, and reddish-orange (or orange-yellow) wing veins and legs. The adults can live for three to four weeks and can feed on the branches of twigs with their piercing-sucking mouthparts. After mating, the female will use her egg-laying device (called an ovipositor) to make two rows of slits through the bark on small twigs; into these slits, she will lay eggs—up to 48 into each slit. Each female periodical cicada can lay up to 600 eggs in her lifetime. This type of egg laying often causes branch flagging: the leaves on the damaged branches will turn red to brown and often the damaged twig will drop to the ground. However, this branch flagging does not cause any long-term health issues for mature trees. There are over 75 species of shrubs and hardwood trees onto which the female may lay eggs. The preferred trees are oak, hickory, apple, and sweetgum and she may also lay eggs on dogwood, blueberry, and azaleas. After six to seven weeks, nymphs will hatch from the eggs, drop to the ground, and burrow down to the plant roots where they will remain until the 2024 emergence.
Other periodical cicada facts: Cicadas do not bite or sting and they are not toxic or poisonous; there is nothing to be worried about if one lands on you or if your dog or cat eats them. They will vibrate their wings and buzz loudly if they are handled by you or a pet. Only the males sing and this only occurs during the day. If you hear singing at night, it is probably crickets, katydids, or frogs.
We’d like to hear about your sightings of the 13-year periodical cicadas!
Please send an email to our entomologist. In the email please include:
- your location (city and county)
- the date that you first (or last) heard or saw the cicadas
- any egg-laying damage you’ve seen
- address where you are seeing the insects
- any good photos you take of the cicadas
- and any other information you’d like to include