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The Cicadas are now Invading! Are they Harmful?


Any day now, if it hasn’t happened already, the Brood X cicada will emerge from its 17-year nap underground and wreak havoc in your neighborhood. The main question on a lot of people’s minds is, “Can these giant bugs do anything bad to me?”

That depends on your definition of “bad.” Will the bugs attack you? No. They don’t bite. But they will be disruptive, especially if you live near an area whose soil has been undisturbed. In places like this, 200 nymphs, which are burrowing their way to the surface as we speak, can emerge from one square yard. An acre of undisturbed soil can yield 1½ million of the critters.

The nymph cicadas have been feeding on the sap in tree roots since 1987. When they reach the top of the soil, they climb trees or other surfaces that look similar to trees to them—such as poles—and shed their skins. They then fly into the trees, and the males make loud buzzing sounds as they try to attract female mates.

 How loud is that buzz? In some areas, it can be measured at 80 decibels. That’s louder than many residential limits of 65 decibels. And it can definitely be loud enough to drown out the sound at outdoor weddings and graduations.

After the females mate, they cut slits in the bark of twigs and deposit eggs in the slits. Females generally lay about 400 eggs each. The eggs hatch in six to 10 weeks. The hatchlings, or nymphs, which look a bit like ants, drop to the ground and burrow under the soil. We’ll see them again in 2021—17 years from now.

The bottom line is that this year’s cicadas are not really harmful. They don’t do much damage to trees—it’s more like a natural pruning, although very young trees are at some risk. Cicadas don’t bite people. They can sicken pets who decide to eats hundreds of them in one day, but the illness isn’t fatal. There was one story 17 years ago about train tracks that got so full of dead cicada bodies that a train wasn’t able to stop as quickly as usual, but that story is unverifiable today.

So relax and enjoy this phenomenon. It’ll only last four to six weeks. You may want to re-think any plans for outdoor parties though, unless you love the crunch of cicada in your potato salad.

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