Cicada sounds fill air after 13-year absence

Published 5:00 am Tuesday, May 7, 2002

The sounds of approaching summer have taken on a new tune, onethat’s heard just every 13 years.

The 13-year periodical cicadas, often mistakenly called locusts,are the talk of the town. The black insects are about one to twoinches in length with a similar wing span. They have red eyes and anoted “W” design on their abdomen, said Lincoln County Agent PerryBrumfield.

Brumfield said his office has received numerous calls fromresidents concerned about the insects that have made their presenceknown throughout Mississippi during the past week.

Subscribe to our free email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

The insects have gained people’s attention because of theirsudden appearance on trees, bushes and the sides of buildings, butalso because of the loud noise made by the males trying to attractfemale cicadas.

“It makes its song 24 hours a day by forcing air throughmembranes on the side of the abdomen,” said Dr. James Jarrett, anentomologist with the service extension at Mississippi StateUniversity.

The noise has been described as a cross between a vehicle inneed of a fan belt and the idle of a diesel truck.

“People usually become accustomed to the noise within 10 days,”said Jarrett.

By the time residents grow immune to the overwhelming noise, theinsects begin to disappear as they die after the reproductionprocess, said Jarrett.

“They will be around as the adult cicada about 25 days,” hesaid. “They should be gone again by the end of May or first ofJune.”

Cicadas consist of two groups of periodicals: the 17-year and13-year cicadas. The 17-year are more prevalent in the northernpart of the United States, while the 13-year is the primary typefound in the south, according to Jarrett and Brumfield.

The cicadas come out of the ground covered by a hard shell,which they shed once they become attached to an object such asbricks, wood, plants or trees.

“Then it will sit there for a period of hours for their skin toharden and the wings to dry out,” said Jarrett. “It will puff thewings out because they are folded in the shell. Then it’s ready forflight.”

The male and female cicadas mate, and the females lay eggs inslits made in the bark or wood of small twigs and stems.

The eggs will hatch in late June, and the newly hatched nymphsdrop to the ground and enter the soil for 13 years ofdevelopment.

“The only damage cicadas cause during their short stay aboveground is from females laying eggs on the tops of tree limbs,especially fruit trees,” said Brumfield.

Many farmers and gardeners have expressed concerns about theinsects eating their plants, but officials said that does nothappen.

“The adults do not feed, or if they do, it’s very minor. Theyexist off fats they have stored during the 13 years in the ground,”said Jarrett.

Another commonly asked question concerns the difference betweencicadas and locusts, he added.

Jarrett explained that the locust is actually a grasshopper andis not present in the southern part of the United States. Locusts,which often come in droves and destroy crops, are occasionally seenin the Plains states.

“The cicada is a totally different insect than the locust or thegrasshopper,” he said.