Once they become adults, cicadas live on and around plants similar to their host plants, often the very same tree where they were born. Depending on the species of cicada, this could be a tree, or perhaps a grass (sugar cane, which some cicadas use as hosts, are giant grasses).
When they are nymphs, which they are during the first stages or instars of their life, they live underground amongst the root systems of the plants they derive nourishment from. While they are there, they dig tunnels and build cells (their living quarters) where they can feed from the rootlets of plants in comfort.
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How can I prevent cicadas from damaging my plants? Assuming they actually will, there are several solutions.
- You can wrap netting, or insect exclusion screens, around small trees or individual tree limbs to keep the cicadas off them. You can get this netting from stores that sell landscaping supplies.
- You can spray them off with a hose.
- You can manually pick them off with your hand.
- You can use insect barrier tape or a sticky solution like “Tanglefoot Pest Barrier”. Not my favorite idea, because it will probably pull their tarsal claws off.
- See Green Methods for more ideas.
Here is an example of netting being used to contain cicadas, except in this case the cicadas are being kept next to the tree branch and not away from it:
As you might imagine, if the netting can keep them inside, it will also keep then outside.
We recommend that you don’t bother with pesticides for a number of reasons.
- New cicadas will continually fly onto your trees from neighbor’s yards, making pesticides futile.
- Your pets could become poisoned from ingesting too many treated cicadas.
- Collateral damage — you end up killing other insects like honey bees and butterflies.
It is important to note that when we talk about cicada broods, we are talking about the 17 & 13 year periodical Magicicada cicadas. We are not talking about Tibicen or other species.
There are 12 groups of Magicicadas with 17 year life cycles, and 3 groups of Magicicadas with 13 year life cycles. Each of these groups emerge in a specific series of years, rarely overlapping (17 & 13 year groups co-emerge every 221 years, for example). Each of these groups emerge in the same geographic area their parents emerged. These groups, each assigned a specific Roman numeral, are called broods.
Gene Kritsky’s book, Periodical Cicadas: The Plague and the Puzzle, documents the history of the recognition and naming of the broods. The first person to document that different groups of periodical cicadas emerged in different years was Nathaniel Potter in 1839. Benjamin D. Walsh and Charles V. Riley devised the system for numbering the different broods in 1868, and then C. L. Marlatt sorted the 17 year broods out from the 13 year broods, giving us the system we have today.
Visit our Broods page which features a grid of the Brood names, their life span, when & where they’ll emerge next and links to maps.
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You might ask, “why were their once cicadas in my area, but now there are none?” There are a number of reasons why cicadas might die off in a particular area, or go totally extinct.
1) Destruction of host trees by a blight or destructive insect infestation. Tibicen bermudiana went extinct in the 1950s in Bermuda because of a cedar tree blight. Emerald Ash Borer insects are currently devastating Ash trees in North America. Ash trees are a favorite tree of Magicicada cassini, in particular.
2) Destruction of host trees by humans. Consider that every time a forrest is removed to make room for another neighborhood, factory, strip mall or highway, the cicadas that inhabited those areas died. Each time the human race expands, the cicadas must decline. The paper The Distribution of Brood Ten of the Periodical Cicadas in New Jersey in 1970 by John B. Schmitt documents the reduction of cicada populations in New Jersey, the nations most populous state. Also, the entire Brood XI went extinct in Connecticut as of 1954.
3) Extreme weather such as tornadoes, hurricanes and flooding can destroy cicada habitat. While there are cases where cicadas were able to survive some pretty horrific weather, if trees are destroyed, or grasses that are hosts to young cicada nymphs are destroyed, or if flood water sits too long, the cicadas are doomed.
4) Pesticides. It should be obvious that pesticides will kill cicadas.
Can pets, including dogs and cats, or other animals sense cicadas below ground? Yes they can. Animals have a better sense of hearing than humans, and they are able to sense the subtle sounds of cicadas tunneling underground.
You might discover animals, including your pet dog, digging up your lawn in advance of a periodical cicada emergence. That is because they can sense the cicadas preparing for the day they will emerge.