The Cicadas Are Coming! The Cicadas Are Coming!
And Here’s What You Need to Know
By Tammie Rafferty
For My Miami County
Lurking just inches below the ground right now are billions of cicadas that have been maturing for the last 17 years (since 2004!), waiting for their day in the sun–quite literally.
Area residents may have noticed that the ground around some trees is beginning to look like Swiss cheese. This is because Brood X cicadas, also known as the Great Eastern Brood or Magicicada, has begun building dime-sized chimneys and towers as high as 6 inches tall. They will be used by the cicadas to emerge from the ground, which experts are saying should be sometime in the next few weeks.
Once the ground temperature reaches 64 degrees, they will emerge en masse, white-bodied and red-eyed. They will then split from their exoskeletons, bask in the sun for four or five days, becoming black in color as their wings fully develop, and then fly away to find a mate.
Don Cipollini, a Wright State University Professor of Biological Sciences and Director of Environmental Sciences recently gave an Earth Day presentation about these mystical creatures. In a Zoom presentation, he offered his best guess and reassurance that, “They will emerge sometime between May 10th and May 15th and are not harmful.”
Here are some fun facts about Brood X from Professor Cipollini:
Cicadas just want to have sex
According to Cipollini, “Cicadas’ only purpose is to mate to continue their species.” After spending 17 years developing, they will emerge, mate with multiple partners, and die.
Cicadas do not taste like chicken
Eaten as a delicacy around the world, rumor has it cicadas taste much like asparagus or a combination of asparagus and shrimp. Cipollini vows to try them for himself this year by stir-frying them with garlic butter and soy sauce. He joked and said, “I believe they will taste just like butter and soy sauce.” He recommends, “collecting them at their emergence and preparing them while they are still soft and not completely hardened by the sun.” He also suggested eating the females rather than the males because, “The males are basically empty on the inside.”
A map from Cicada Safari showing where the 17-year cicada will appear in the next few weeks. They seem to love the Ohio River Valley. At right, a cicada after it emerges from its shell and before it turns black in the sun. (Image from Cicada Safari)
Do not eat cicadas if you have a shellfish allergy
Cicadas’ exoskeletons are much like those of shrimp. Professor Cipollini warns, “Cicadas contain chitin, as do shrimp, so avoid eating them if you have an existing allergy.”
Cicadas are non-toxic, your pet will be fine
While most people will not be skewering cicadas and grilling them, pets may be a little more curious. Cipollini says, “Anything that eats meat will try a cicada: birds, rodents, foxes, snakes, even your cat or dog.” While they are non-toxic, Cipollini added, “The shells may irritate the lining of your pet’s stomach, causing them to vomit, but they will not cause any damage.”
Cicadas are louder than a lawnmower
The call of cicadas will soon fill the air and it will be deafening to some. According to Professor Cipollini, “They are the world’s loudest insect, reaching decibels over one-hundred.”
Only male cicadas sing
Professor Cipollini shed light on the fact, “Only the males have tymbals, vibrating much like drum covers behind their wings, used as a mating call and to ward off predators. Female cicadas just sit quietly and wait to mate, giving the ok to males by flicking her wings and making a click noise.”
Cicadas after they have turned black in the sun. They are then ready to fly. (Image from Cicada Safari)
Male cicadas are deaf when they are calling
Cipollini says, “Male cicadas can disengage their ear drums while calling, protecting their own hearing from damage to themselves.”
Cicadas do not need to eat, so don’t worry about your plants
After noshing on tree roots for 17 years, cicadas no longer need to eat when they emerge. There is no need to worry about billions of cicadas destroying plants and trees.
Female cicadas can damage small trees when laying eggs
Professor Cipollini recommends, “covering small, newly planted, trees with netting that has mesh holes no bigger than a centimeter to protect them from possible damage done when the females slice small holes into trees in order to lay their eggs, from mid-May to mid-June.”
Females live longer than males
Cipollini says, “Males emerge first, establishing their territory and mating calls, but females will live longer, giving them time to lay their eggs.”
Cicadas make great fertilizer
After cicadas have had their fill of mating, the males will die, followed by the females, after they have laid their eggs in trees. What’s left will be a mess of billions of dead cicadas. Professor Cipollini suggests, “sweeping them up and using them as fertilizer.” Ironically, the next generation of cicadas underground will benefit from the nutrients of their dead parents above ground. There is an app to track Brood X. Cicada Safari was developed by Dr. Gene Kritsky and Mount St. Joseph University in Cincinnati. Besides tracking the emergence of Brood X, it is filled with information about cicadas and can also be accessed at www.cicadasafari.org.
Brood X is emerging at Yellow Springs Brewery on April 30th
Thanks to Professor Cipollini, Yellow Springs Brewery has crafted a beer in honor of this year’s cicadas. According to Head Brewer, Jayson Hartings, “A friend of ours had the idea to name a beer Brood X a couple of years ago. He is a scientist and bug enthusiast who has been really looking forward to the return of this type of cicada. We figured that if we were going to name a beer after these creatures, we should try to develop some creative way of working the cicada theme into the project without actually putting the insects in the beer. Black IPA's were originally referred to as Cascadian IPA's because the style originated in the Pacific Northwest of the United States. We chose this style for Brood X because we thought it would be fun to call it a Cicadian IPA. Then we decided to use 17 different hop varieties in the beer to play off of the cicada's 17 year hibernation cycle.”
The Brood X Black IPA will be tapped at 1 p.m. on April 30th. Try pairing it with a sauteed cicada. There won’t be another opportunity to do so until 2038.