Apr. 6—Come late spring, the noise level outside in Schuylkill County will go up a few decibels when a brood of cicadas emerges from the ground.
The insects are expected to come from underground in the mid-Atlantic part of the country in late May or early June, feeding on tree root sap. They are part of a group called Brood X, a group of cicadas that emerges every 17 years.
Patrick "Porcupine Pat" McKinney, an environmental educator with the Schuylkill Conservation District, said this particular brood, known for its red eyes, black body and large wings, is particularly large in number.
The Associated Press reports millions are likely to emerge from the ground. They are expected to stick around for two to four weeks and will breed, leaving the next generation that will burrow into the ground and emerge in 2038.
The cicadas are distinguishable by the brown shells shed upon their maturity, and their loud mating calls, emitted by the males, which can reach 100 decibels. McKinney compared the noise produced by the insects to being next to a power saw.
He said not everyone in the county will be able to hear them, as cicadas prefer areas that have trees.
Tom Reed, a master gardener with Penn State Extension Schuylkill, said the insects will leave a noticeable hole when they leave the ground. The adults usually hatch out of the shells at night or early in the morning before flying off to find a mate.
They come up when the ground reaches 65 degrees and are often triggered by a warm rain. The last time the brood emerged was 2004.
McKinney said the cicadas stay underground as a security measure. However, he said they have dogs and birds to fear as predators.
Laurie Goodrich, the Sarkis Acopian director of conservation science at Hawk Mountain Sanctuary, said cicadas offer a food source for larger birds such as the American kestrel, blue jays and crows as they are similar to grasshoppers.
"They will take advantage of the extra food for their young," she said.
However, Goodrich expects most of the cicadas will survive.
Reed said females lay their eggs on the tips of tree branches, using an ovipositor to slit the wood, laying between 24 and 28 in a pocket. During the course of her three or four weeks of life, he said a female cicada can lay between 400 and 600 eggs.
Doing so, he said, can lead to the branches being damaged. While that isn't problematic for a healthy tree, he said it can be for a younger one. Reed recommends delaying planting new trees while the brood is around. McKinney said the sound could exacerbate migraines.
Despite their appearance, local experts said they do not bite or sting and aren't good at flying.
"The most harm you'll get is if you run into them," McKinney said, adding he was hit in the face by one while biking.
"It was like being hit with a small stone," he said.
Goodrich said she hopes the public isn't repulsed by them, adding cicadas have been spotted at Hawk Mountain in the past, and she expects them to be visible again this year.
McKinney said cicadas aren't locusts but have their own insect classification.
"They are another natural wonder," he said. "And they have a face only a mother could love."
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