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Shadow: The cicadas are coming, but they don't have to ruin your summer

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Cicadas have one of the craziest life cycles out of any creature on the planet. They will soon be all around us and above us. But they spend most of their lives, 17 years, buried underground, quietly surviving on plant sap.

Experts seem to think that 2021 will be the year of the infestation of the Brood X cicadas.

For clarification, there are differing types of cicadas — one being the “normal” ones we hear every year and the second being a “Brood X” variety that emerges every 17 (or sometimes 13) years. Since 2004 was the last big infestation, then 2021 should be their next target date. I have already been getting reports of massive amounts emerging from their ground-based nests.

Backing up a bit, don’t confuse these critters with locusts as is many times done. The cicada is a totally different insect. They are not as destructive as locusts, but the noise level that they create will drive you nuts. Locusts are members of the grasshopper family and are much more destructive to crops etc. Cicadas, however, may cause some damage to smaller trees as they lay their eggs, leaving the shells. Larger trees usually don’t suffer any adverse effects.

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We usually hear some cicadas each year but when the Brood X models arrive, it’s a much larger infestation. The eastern Illinois counties will probably see a larger population than the counties to the west. Normally, the counties along Illinois' eastern border have greater populations. Coles, Douglas and Cumberland counties' infestations will probably be somewhat less, however, expect lots of these noisy critters for several weeks until they get past the mating season and return to their ground nesting areas.

Cicadas generate their very irritating sounds for the purpose of mating. Once they leave the ground, their whole purpose is mating. They live in the ground eating roots from adjacent trees, etc. The above ground destruction is mostly on your ears.

Only the males make these mating sounds as they attempt to attract the females. The females are much quieter. The sound-creating organs are only found on the males. The females do not have the ability or organs to create these noises.

Cicadas do not bite as they have no “stingers,” etc. They do have prickly legs, however, that may irritate or even pierce delicate skin.

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Information attributed to the University of Illinois said that the Illinois brood known as Brood XIII will emerge in late May 2024. It has the reputation as the largest emergence known anywhere.

In 1956, entomologists found as many as 311 emergence holes per square yard in an area near Chicago. That’s approximately 1.5 million cicadas per acre. When they die and drop to the ground in such large numbers, the odor is sometimes objectionable. Some people in the Chicago area had to use snow shovels to clear their sidewalks, according to reports.

Now this gives us something to look forward to, doesn’t it? The COVID pandemic seems to be subsiding just as the cicada infestation arrives. We will survive both, however, by simply making the best of each day and dealing with the problems individually.

Maybe we could harvest the cicada population and sell them as fish bait? I’ve been successful using grasshoppers and may flies for bait, but have never tried cicadas.

If I could catch the carpenter bees without personal damage, I might try of them. I seem to have a massive population of them this summer around the barns. They drill holes about 3/8 inch diameter into soft boards such as pine and then turn horizontally into the timber to make nests, etc. This can be destructive to the supporting capabilities of the lumber.

The males will sting you if aroused, but the females don’t have stingers. They are all pests and it’s pretty hard to tell if the one buzzing around your head is a girl or boy. Probably best to avoid all of them.

My solution to surviving the cicada noise while backyard barbecuing is to put on a good bluegrass CD such as Rhonda Vincent or Ricky Skaggs and turn up the volume. Works for me!

Don’t let a few bugs ruin your summer.


Dave Shadow is an outdoor columnist for the JG-TC.

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