The news is abuzz with the emergence of the 17 year, or periodical, cicadas. 2021 marks the emergence of “brood X” in parts of the northeastern United States. When should we expect to hear the buzz in Kansas City? The good news is not anytime soon.
Periodical cicadas have one of the more interesting life cycles of any insect. There are three broods of cicadas completing their life cycle in 13 years and 12 broods taking the entire 17 years. In the insect world, a brood is a group of insects hatching or emerging at the same time. It is these large numbers that create such a fuss.
The Kansas City area is associated with brood IV, last appearing in 2015. This means we must wait until 2032 for the singing to return. The larval stage still is deep in the soil, feeding on the roots of trees.
Soil-dwelling adults emerge, pupating into adults. They fly into trees where the males start their singing or buzzing, reaching deafening levels. The males sing their hearts out in hopes of attracting a female to mate. Males die after several weeks of singing.
After mating, the females lay their eggs in small twigs and branches of trees. They have a sharp ovipositor, or saw-like appendage used to slice quarter to half-inch gashes in twigs to deposit eggs. Rows of slits can kill twigs.
The damage is minimal for mature trees but can affect young trees or fruit trees. Preventing the damage is difficult unless the entire tree is covered with netting to keep out the fertile females.
Eggs develop in the twigs hatching in six to 10 weeks. White nymphs fall to the soil, boring into the ground finding a tree root where they attach and feed 13 or 17 years.
Periodical cicadas emerge earlier, in May and early June, before the more common annual or summer cicadas. The yearly cicada makes its appearance in Kansas City during the hotter days of July and August.
The numbers of the annual cicadas are much smaller. Although the singing on a warm evening can be quite loud, it will never reaching the levels of the mass of periodical cicadas.
Periodical cicadas are black with orange markings and bright red eyes. Summer cicadas are less showy with body colors of brown, green or white with dark-colored eyes. Like the periodical cicadas, the annual species have similar life cycles feeding on tree roots but emerge each year.
So why do the periodical cicadas take so long? Scientists believe the lengthy life cycle keeps predators at bay, ensuring survival. And how do they know when to emerge? Scientists report they keep track of the seasonal sap movement in the trees.
A cicada and a locust are not the same insect as they are each in different insect orders. However, people often use the names interchangeably. Locusts swarm and damage crops. Cicadas do not swarm or damage crops but just seem as if they do, as there are so many that emerge simultaneously.
Sit back and relax as the sounds of summer cicada singing will be upon us. For those counting, you can mark your calendar for summer 2032, when you will need your earplugs.
Dennis Patton is a horticulture agent with Kansas State University Research and Extension. Have a question for him or other university extension experts? Email them to firstname.lastname@example.org.