This year, western North Carolina is getting an earful.
Although cicadas emerge every summer exclusively in the eastern United States, 2017 marked a special year for Brood VI. This species of cicada that lives underground, eating tree sap, emerged for the first time in 17 years.
Lucky for us we don't have to endure the screeching of these insect for another 17 years, but we are left with ringing in our ears and dead branch tips in our yards.
Why do Cicadas Make That Noise?
North Carolinians in the emergence areas no doubt heard the irritating symphony of periodical cicadas as they tried to locate a mate. That’s right, what sounds like loud, annoying chaos to you is music to cicadas’ ears. The males are the ones responsible for those long, loud songs and females respond with a clicking sound. They communicate back and forth, getting closer and closer until finally making contact. (The female cicadas’ clicking sounds can actually be mimicked by snapping one’s fingers and luring a male cicada in. Of course, the cicada will be pretty disappointed to realize it’s just a finger.)
Are Cicadas Hurting My Yard?
After finding one another and mating, females use their egg-laying structure, called an ovipositor, to drill grooves into the tips of tree branches and lay eggs. This is where they can sometimes damage trees. This egg-laying method can kill branch tips, a symptom referred to as “flagging” since the dangling brown tips look like hanging flags. Large trees may be covered with flagging, but usually recover without long-term effects. While not common, small or weak trees could die from such damage. Covering susceptible small trees with netting to prevent egg-laying should protect them if needed. This year, white oak seemed to be hit hardest by the periodical cicadas, but many hardwood trees are at risk, including maple, ash, elm, and other oaks.
Will Cicadas Attack Me?
Along with their loud noise and minor damage to trees, another nuisance of the periodical cicadas is that they are attracted to loud, vibrating equipment. Individuals in an outbreak area might have found themselves covered in cicadas if mowing the lawn or operating power tools. To reduce this, it’s recommended to do these activities earlier in the morning. Of course, you don’t want to be more annoying to your neighbors than cicadas, so don’t head out to do your yard work too early!
In short, periodical cicadas are your rude, partying neighbors. They make a loud ruckus late into the night and might leave a mess in your trees (at least it’s not toilet paper), but keep in mind their annoyance is temporary and they’ll be gone before you know it… for another 17 years at least.