a 17 cycle cicada

If you were born after 1996, chances are you’ve never seen the cycle of the cicada. That is about to change, as 17 year cycle cicadas are expected to make an appearance by the end of May. All along the East Coast, these noisy creatures will once again take to the skies and create clouds of loud, dark noise. The emerging of the cicadas is an interesting study into creatures which have a long period of hibernation. Virtually no other creature on Earth has the same habits in the same numbers.

For those who are less scientifically minded, the appearance of the cicadas is more of an inconvenience than a spectacle. Even so, they are fascinating creatures. Here are just a few reasons why:

  • The swarms are expected to have a density of as much as 1.5 million cicadas for every acre
  • Cicadas can lay up to 600 eggs before they die
  • The periodical cicada is one of the longest living species of insect
  • The buzzing sound cicadas make can be as loud as 100 decibels
  • The mating season will last for six weeks.

17 Years, 13 Years, and Cycles in Between

Although the most familiar of the cicada cycles is the 17 year stretch, there are also species which have their own 13 year cycle. The cycles themselves are also not synchronized, although they do follow roughly the same 13 or 17 year patterns. The Magicicada cicada, which follows a 13 year cycle, is usually spawned in the southern and Midwestern regions of the country.

Cicadas are often mistakenly referred to as locusts, but they actually bear little resemblance to the locust itself. Instead, it is likely that they were given the name due to their appearance as a swarm, resembling the plague afflicted on Egypt as depicted in the Bible. While the actual cicadas themselves do not cause a great deal of damage, their bodies pile up at the end of the cycle, creating unsightly, slipping hazards. For the local bird and animal population, their corpses are a bounty of free protein. For homeowners, they can be a headache to sweep up.

Annoying, but Harmless

Cicadas are relatively harmless to people and animals. Their primary defense mechanism is to fly away when endangered, and they do not possess a sting or bite that is particularly harmful. They also do not have poison in their systems, which is good news for dog and cat owners afraid of their pets snapping up a bug or two.

The main threat that cicadas cause are to trees in orchards; cicadas may overfeed or burden a tree with too many eggs, which can cause “flagging” (the wilting and browning of branch ends) to occur. Peripheral twigs can break, which can be harmful to younger trees. Most seasoned growers either know or soon discover not to plant new trees when expecting the cicada season to arrive. The damage that they cause is relatively minor, but growers who want to hedge their bets make sure to wait until the cycle of cicadas has passed before planting new orchards. But the news is not all bad: the cicada arrival every 17 years also correlates to a spike in the stock market, making them good news for investors, if not homeowners.