Don’t bug out, it’s just a cicada swarm

Get ready for a chitinous cacophony over the next several weeks. Billions of Brood II Magicicada cicadas will be emerging from the ground and striking up an amorous, clamorous chorus as the insects attempt to carry on their species.

Have no fear; these cicadas are not interested in you or (for the most part) your plants. They don’t bite or sting, and after about six weeks the noisome insects will be gone, not to be seen again until their offspring emerge in another 17 years. But while they’re here, they’ll be making quite a racket as they try to attract mates. According to Popular Mechanics, a tree full of males “can reach 90 decibels when measured directly beneath.”

The male cicadas use “specialized structures called tymbals, found on the abdomen,” according to the University of Connecticut’s Cicada Central. Female cicadas respond to the male’s song by using their wings to make a clicking sound. The females then lay eggs in trees by making tiny slits in the branches. After the eggs hatch later this summer, the nymphs will burrow underground and stay there until 2030.

It’s the branch cutting that’s a cause for some concern. While most adult trees will suffer little damage beyond brown leaves, some saplings won’t fair as well. If you have young trees, experts recommend you cover them with mosquito netting.

It’s also a good idea to keep pets away from the boisterous bugs. Dogs seem to especially love to eat them, and while they’re harmless in small batches, Popular Mechanics states that a large dose of cicadas can cause vomiting and constipation.

If you’re feeling really adventurous, you can eat them yourself. The New York Daily News has a list of cicada recipes that includes tacos, Jell-o, and peanut butter cups.

If you’re not going to eat them, you can certainly compost them after they’ve completed their lifecycle. Their chitin exoskeletons are high in nitrogen.

To learn more about Cicadas, check out these other resources:

National Geographic 


USDA Agricultural Research Service