Cicada Q&A

EDITOR'S NOTE: Because of the overwhelming number of inquiries from readers, The Sun's Frank Roylance has joined Michael Stroh in answering your questions about cicadas.

Betty, Baltimore: When will the cicadas surface? How long will they last?

Stroh: Some cicadas have already started to surface. By next week, some Marylanders will probably start hearing singing males. By July 1, they'll be gone -- except for billions of rotting cicada carcasses.

Jesse Elkins, Reisterstown: What do cicadas eat?

Stroh: Periodical cicada nymphs suckle on tree roots during their 13 or 17 years underground. Once they emerge, the adults can also tap into the tree to suck down its fluid, says naturalist John Zyla. But they're generally more concerned with looking for a mate than eating, he adds.

Eric Czajkowski, Parkton: What is the relationship between cicadas and locusts? Are they the same thing?

Stroh: Cicadas have no relation to locusts, which are technically a species of grasshopper.

Jesse Rodriguez, Austin, Texas: I read that cicadas carry bubonic plague. What can we do to avoid the Black Death?

Stroh: Fleas carried bubonic plague, not cicadas. While they may be big, ugly and uncoordinated, experts say that cicadas are also harmless.

Mary E. Windholtz, Cincinnati: Does anyone remember how bad they stink when they die? My whole yard smelled like raw hamburger when left out to sit in the sun.

Stroh: Yum! Like all living things, cicadas decompose when they die. The best thing to do is grab a rake and hold your nose.

TJ, Ashburn, Va.: Does the frozen ground affect them?

Stroh: Cicadas can survive freezing temperatures underground. But they only emerge when the soil is warm, typically a relatively toasty 64 degrees Fahrenheit.

John C. O'Conor, Ruxton: What's the best way to protect a small tree such as a two-year-old Japanese maple? Would you recommend a cheesecloth covering?

Stroh: Most experts recommend placing netting over the crown of the tree and tying it off at the bottom. The trick is to keep the cicadas out of the branches, where the females lay their eggs. An older tree can typically survive the trauma, but trees two years old or younger are more vulnerable.

Jed Faroe, Purcellville, Va.: Why do Cicadas appear exactly every 17 years? What keeps them on schedule? Do they ever appear sooner or later?

Stroh: The short answer is: Nobody knows. Some biologists speculate the periodical cicada's long life cycle evolved as a way to dodge predators. There's also some evidence that the insects might be keeping track of the years by monitoring chemicals circulating through the trees. But nobody knows the answer.

Mike, Columbia: Will the cicadas bother people in the infield for Preakness?

Stroh: It's unlikely. Cicadas usually only appear in places where there are lots of trees.

Kate, Maryland: Do they bite and aren't they going to hurt animals?

Stroh: Cicadas don't bite. And they don't hurt animals -- at least not intentionally. Dogs and cats love to munch on cicadas. And sometimes they eat so many they vomit.

Jackie Adams, Aberdeen: Are they really going to be so bad that they will be flying in my hair and landing on me?

Stroh: They might if you live in a place where lots of Brood X cicadas call home.

Kim Wu, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada: Is it true that cicadas cycle every 17 years? I remember growing up in Asia (Malaysia) and they come around every year.

Stroh: There are two general types of cicadas. Annual or "dog day" cicadas are the ones you can hear each year on late summer afternoons. They live all over the world. Periodical cicadas, on the other hand, only emerge every 13 or 17 years, depending on the species. Periodicals are only found in Eastern North America.

Matt, Baltimore: How long are cicadas?

Stroh: Adult cicadas are typically 1 to 2 inches long.

Michelle, Baltimore: Do you suggest the people stay at home from work or travel if they take mass transit?

Stroh: Cicadas should have no impact on commuters.

Hadassah Beck, Baltimore: I have only been in Baltimore for about 6 years and am deathly afraid of bugs in general. How bad does it truly get and how long will it really last?

Stroh: How bad it gets depends on where you live and how many trees you have around you. But take solace in this fact: The bugs don't last long. By July 1 or so they should all be dead.

Maria, Pikesville: Will my puppy get sick if she eats any? ?

Stroh: If she pigs out, she might, so you might want to keep your dog away from cicadas. Although vets say that even animals that do indulge aren't likely to die. It's more like a case of doggie indigestion.

Cathy, Louisville, Ky.: I am scared of the cicadas. Do they stay in the trees or swarm around you?

Stroh: Cicadas don't swarm in the sense that angry bees swarm. Cicadas are notoriously bad fliers and, like a drunk on the sidewalk, are more likely to bump into you by accident than with any kind of ill intent.

Dillon, Ferndale: If the temperature the cicadas need to come out of the ground is 64 degrees, shouldn't they be out? It got in the 80s yesterday.

Stroh: You're right. It has been hot recently. But air temperature and soil temperature are two different things and it takes time for the soil to warm up.

Lala, Westminster: What geographic area can we expect to see the cicadas in?

Roylance: In Maryland, anywhere except western Garrett County, Southern Maryland and most of the Eastern Shore. Brood X cicadas will also be emerging in parts of 15 other states from New Jersey to Tennessee.

L.S., Philadelphia: How can you control or eliminate the cicadas? Is there any device installed outdoors that attracts and kills them?

Roylance: Pesticides will only kill other beneficial insects and threaten the pets and wildlife who eat cicadas, and then thousands of the survivors next door will invade your yard. Time will kill them all for free in six weeks, and their offspring won't be back until 2021.

Diane, Kensington: Can you create a habitat for them to watch them emerge? We found a ton of the nymphs in our backyard. Or is it really that easy to see them emerge on the trees outside?

Roylance: If you have lots of nymphs, you will see plenty of them as they climb the trees, molt and transform into adults. They'll be everywhere.

BJ Walas, Columbia: How did a cicada fall down into our fireplace last weekend? It was a full-grown one and had shed its former skin (yuck). It was captured and disposed of pronto ... Those beady red eyes? Eek! I'll never forget that night! This was on May 1 or 2, so this guy got an early start.

Roylance: There are always a few early risers. They usually meet an unhappy fate.

Nicole, Baltimore: Do cicadas carry germs?

Roylance: They are not disease vectors. But they have just crawled out of the dirt, so it is advisable to clean and cook them before eating.

Joann, Hampstead: How can I keep my wimpy teen-age daughters from freaking out about the cicadas? They're convinced it'll be like some horror film.

Roylance: Pluck a few of the empty exoskeletons from your trees and bring them inside for the girls to see and touch, then catch a male adult and let them hold him and hear him buzz. One on one, they're pretty cool.

Gennette, Ellicott City: Should I protect my peach tree from the cicada?

Roylance: Nurseries say only the youngest trees are at risk of significant damage as the female cicadas slit the bark of small twigs and lay their eggs. For the rest, the twig death is only a minor pruning.

Veronica Hall, Ellicott City: Should we not plant a new mulch bed with shrubs until this passes?

Roylance: The plants aren't at risk, but wait until the end of May anyway. Digging in the bed will injure emerging nymphs.

Marjorie Banks, Baltimore: Will the cicadas eat or cause any damage to flowers in gardens, boxwood shrub, azaleas or any other shrubs? Do I need to cover my hostas?

Roylance: Adult cicadas can't chew, but they will suck moisture from soft plant parts to replace fluids lost to evaporation, which does no harm. Any holes in your hostas are probably from slugs.

Brendan Davis, Annandale, Va.: Is there a chart somewhere that shows the years that each brood of 17-year and 13-year cicadas emerges? It would be interesting to see what years have no cicada emergence at all, and what years have an intersecting emergence of 17-year and 13-year cicadas.

Roylance: There are no emergences in 2005 or 2006. For a complete rundown, go to

Bob Friday, Owings Mills: Do cicadas damage trees and, if so, what can be done to prevent this? I have a new dogwood and old red maple.

Roylance: Damage to small twigs during egg-laying will cause "flagging," the wilting and death of leaves at the ends of branches, but it's no problem for established trees. After the males start singing, you can protect very young trees with cheesecloth or netting.

M.Benton, Maryland: Other than eating of the trees and noise making, do they affect people in any way?

Roylance: Cicadas have no chewing mouth parts, can't bite or sting. They're non-toxic and affect only those people with irrational fears of insects, or a bad reaction to cicadas that blunder into their cars while driving.

Barbara Steele, Parkville: What is the range of this cicada experience? Do they get these in Asia, Europe, Australia?

Roylance: There are cicadas all over the world, but only eastern North America has the long-lived periodical cicadas that emerge every 13 or 17 years. This year's emergence of Brood X is the largest in the world, extending across parts of 16 states from New Jersey to Tennessee.

Richard Veilleux, Canterbury, Conn.: I know there will be fewer cicadas downtown, but I'm curious how one defines "fewer." I'm coming into town Memorial Day weekend along with 25,000 of my closest friends for the NCAA lacrosse tournament, and we wonder whether we should have screen tents to save the tailgating parties.

Roylance: Cicadas shouldn't be a problem out on the tarmac at M&T Bank Stadium.

Kathy, Lockland, Ohio: Do they get in your mouth?

Roylance: Only after they've been properly battered and fried.

DeShanda L. Eason, Randallstown: It seems that many people agree that they are not harmful, however, they affect many peoples' activities of daily living and therefore the issue should be taken seriously and methods aimed at reducing/maintaining the outbreak/infestations and/or swarm of these insects should be developed.

Roylance: Why stamp out an infrequent natural phenomenon that aerates our soils, provides a bonanza for birds and squirrels and compost for the gardens? Our human instinct to "control" nature is not always well-advised.

Carol, Fallston: My home in Harford County was only 3 years old the last time the cicadas came. We did not have them in our neighborhood. Will we escape again?

Roylance: If there were no adults there 17 years ago, there were no eggs laid, and no nymphs hatched to return in 2004. It takes a long time for cicadas to colonize new territory.

Monica, Columbia: Although I was 8 years old during the last cicada invasion, I have not forgotten our little buggy friends because they smelled so bad. Will Brood X stink as well?

Roylance: Cicadas have not changed much since the last Ice Age. When they die, they decompose and stink up the joint.

Kurt Kroncke, Baltimore: Will there be cicadas in all parts of Maryland?

Roylance: No. Western Garrett County, southern Maryland and most of the Eastern Shore are outside Brood X's territory.

Mildred, Baltimore: Do cicadas fly into houses through the chimney? Do we need nets over our chimneys? Someone told me to cover my chimney.

Roylance: Not likely, unless they die and fall in. They're trying to find each other in the treetops, so your chimney is the last place they want to be.

Susan Lipinski, Bel Air: On May 30, will the cicada numbers on Long Island, N.Y., be as bad as predicted for Baltimore. Why are some locations worse than others?

Roylance: Brood X doesn't extend past New Jersey. But Brood XIV will be emerging on Long Island in 2008.

Monique Perkins, Baltimore: I'm considering planting some rose bushes and azaleas. Will the cicada destroy them?

Stroh: Flowers and shrubs are usually safe, since cicadas do most of their living and loving in tree limbs. Only owners of young, newly-planted trees need to be concerned.

Angela Pell, Columbia: Will there gradually be an increase in quantity of cicadas? I am getting married in Savage on May 30 and was wondering if there will be as many cicadas on May 20 as on our wedding date. We haven't formally decided to move the ceremony indoors.

Roylance: There will be more as May goes by, and more of them will be singing. There should be quite a racket by the 30th.

Rob, York, Pa: Are cicadas good bait for fly fishing trout?

Roylance: You bet. If they're not already stuffed, the fish will love 'em.

Annette Klein, Baltimore: Do the cicadas make their horrendous noise only when the sun shines? Does the noise last from sunrise to sunset? Is it less on cloudy days?

Roylance: Cicadas are less active at night, and thankfully they'll quiet down in time for people to go to sleep. Cloudy days won't make much difference.

Father James McCurry, O.F.M. Conv., Ellicott City: I really do not have a question; however I wrote a wee limerick about the cicada, and thought you might enjoy it. Here goes:
"There was a cicada named Ada.
It sat on my roasted potatuh.
At lunch as I munched,
I heard a big crunch.
Poor Ada Cicada! I ate huh!"

Thank you for your questions.