COLUMBUS (WCMH) — Any day now, the first Brood X cicadas will being to emerge from the ground.
The bugs will then take over trees across central and southern Ohio, making their calls heard for nearly a month.
“They come up from the ground, so we’re going to see some holes from where they emerge from,” said Audra Dabo with the Ohio Department of Agriculture. “We’re probably going to hear them more than anything else.”
After a 17-year wait, the cicadas’ life span is just six weeks, but they’ll make the most of that time.
“They’re going to stay very close to where they emerge and they’re going to complete their adult life cycle in about a month.,” Dabo said. “So they’ll emerge out, they’ll molt and then they may feed, they’ll mate and then the females will lay eggs and then they’ll be gone by the end of June.”
It’s the mating process that will draw attention to the arrival of the cicadas. The high pitched “singing” you’ll hear coming from the trees is just their language of love.
“The male cicadas gather in trees in what we call chorusing centers where they sing en masse, if you will, to lure females into the trees for the process of going through a series of mating calls and then mating,” said Gene Kritsky, dean of Behavioral and Natural Sciences at Mount St. Joseph University.
“It can be pretty loud, up to 100 decibels,” Sabo said. “So that’s almost the same as a lawnmower. We will definitely hear them.”
The last time central Ohio saw the brood was in 2004 during the Memorial Tournament, where the bugs made a memorable impression.
“I feel like I have a 17-year cicada in my ear all the time,” golfer Jack Nicklaus said at the time. “You know, I have tinnitus, so it sounds like I have them all the time, so this just enhances it.”
Once the soil reaches 64 degrees, the brood will slowly begin to emerge again despite the recent cold snap.
“In 2004, these Brood X cicadas came out around May 16,” Kritsky said. “It’s been an unusual year so far. We had two inches of snow this past week and we’re in the 80s this week. So, it’s been topsy-turvy, but we’re still expecting them to emerge in the first half of May.”
“Once they are out, they just want to go to the nearest vertical structure, so if that’s a tree, or that’s you, they’re going to crawl up you,” Sabo said, adding that there’s nothing to fear. “If one lands on you, you don’t have any reason to be concerned. They are not going to bite us. They don’t even have mandibles, the right mouth parts to do that. You can just brush it off. They’re just confused. They’re mistaking you for a tree.”
The bugs also lack bones, although they are packed with protein. That’s good news for your pets who may eat a few, or a few too many.
“In the event that your animals do snack on a couple, that’s completely fine,” Sabo said. “What happens or what might happen is they might gorge themselves and eat too many and, in that event, they might get sick. But that’s just from eating too many. It’s not from the insect being harmful.”
Experts say the only danger cicadas pose are to young trees. You’ll want to cover those in the coming days before the cicadas emerge and latch on to them.
Despite the 17-year gap between their emergences, experts say the bugs play an important role in the circle of life.
“While they’re not a species that if we wiped out all the cicadas the forest would disappear, when the cicadas come out as adults, that does provide a lot of benefit to the ecosystem,” Kritsky said. “The holes they produce in the ground as the nymphs crawl out of the ground, those holes are like a natural aeration. They persist for weeks and help the soil. When the adults come out, they’re fed on by all sorts of predators: dogs, cats, raccoons, rodents…that’s a nice food pulse that allows those species to build up populations if necessary. If mice, for example, can get a hold of these and start eating some of these cicadas, that’ll build up the mouse population which in turn benefits the owls and other raptors. When cicadas die, their carcasses collect at the base of the trees, they get wet from dew in the morning but also rain, and then they rot. Those decaying bodies and all of that biomass provides a nutrient cache that goes back in the soil, into the trees to help the trees for the next 17 years.”
A lot has changed in the last 17 years. YouTube, for example, was created shortly right after the last appearance of Brood X. For the first time, the creatures will be documented using smartphones and social media.
Kritsky has helped create an app called Cicada Safari for people to document their cicada sightings. Users can upload pictures of the bugs which will then be verified, identified and tagged by an expert.
“If it’s indeed a periodical cicada, it goes on a live map and we can then use that live map to see where the cicadas are emerging at right now,” Kritsky said. “A lot of these counties and surrounding areas may not have been documented thoroughly in the past.”