Periodical cicadas of 2011 expected to emerge in May

Wednesday, April 27, 2011 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 5:45 p.m. CDT, Wednesday, May 11, 2011
A cicada rests on a branch during the 1998 emergence in Columbia. The same brood of cicadas is scheduled to emerge later this spring when the soil temperature reaches about 65 degrees.

COLUMBIA — The countdown is on. 

Columbia is only weeks away from experiencing an event not seen —or rather, heard — since 1998.  It will be loud, stinky and, for some, even frightening. This deafening chorus is imminent as the warmer days of May approach.


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Prepare yourselves — the periodical cicadas are coming.   

Brood 19, or the Great Southern Brood, of periodical cicadas is scheduled to emerge en masse throughout central and northern Missouri next month, Gene Kritsky, editor-in-chief of American Entomologist, said. 

Thousands of cicada nymphs will crawl out of the ground when the soil reaches about 65 degrees. The nymphs will climb trees, shed their skins and begin the noisy process of searching for a mate.  The males will sing from about 10 a.m. until dusk every day for weeks before they die off, Kritsky said. 

Historically, 13-year cicada broods emerge around May 15, Kritsky said. His date is an estimate and subject to change depending on temperatures and rainfall.

“Cicada emergence is really all tied to the soil’s temperature,” Kritsky said.

When the cicadas do emerge, certain areas of Columbia could experience a deafening chorus. 

“In places where there are older, well-established trees, you could get up to 85 decibels,” Kritsky said. “To put that in perspective, when a jet is flying overhead that is usually between 60 and 70 decibels.”

Individual cicadas are not tremendously loud, said Johannes Schul, an MU biology professor. But since they will emerge in such large numbers and gather in groups, Schul said, there is no doubt the cicadas will produce an “enormous chorus” throughout Columbia.

“It won't damage anyone’s hearing,” Schul said. “If we were exposed to those levels of noise for years at a time, then we might face an effect, but this outbreak is short and will not have any adverse health effects aside from stressing a few people out.”

How loud the chorus will be depends on the concentration of cicadas and how suitable an area is for mating. Areas that have undergone development in the last 13 years may not see any cicadas emerge.

“If a developer has come in and knocked down all of the trees in the area since the last emergence, then the only cicadas you will see are the ones who fly in,” Kritsky said. 

Newer developments aren't necessarily safe from the cicada onslaught, Kritsky said.  

“Although cicadas may not emerge there, they are attracted to young trees in full sun surrounded by low-lying vegetation, similar to the kinds of trees you see in newer developments," Kritsky said. "The cicadas will seek out these kinds of trees and congregate there in large clusters.”

Large clusters of cicadas, or leks, are particularly fond of small trees such as crab apples, elms or Bradford pears, Kritsky said. 

Periodical cicadas survive on a strategy of satiating their predators. They emerge in such large numbers that there will always be some left over to reproduce. After a while, predators get tired of eating the cicadas and leave them alone. 

“If you walked outside and found the world swarming with Hershey Kisses, eventually you would get so sick of Hershey Kisses that you would never ever want to eat them again,” Kritsky said.

The sight and sound of the cicadas will stick around for four to six weeks while the insects mate and the females lay eggs in slits cut into the branches of small trees before their life cycle comes to an end.     

"When they die off, they start decaying, and since it is hot it can get really stinky," Kritsky said.  

MU is scheduled to hold the 13th International Meeting on Invertebrate Sound and Vibration near the end of the cicadas' life cycles. The meeting will take place June 4 to 7 and attract nearly 100 researchers, professors and students from around the world, Schul said.  

The meeting is held every two or three years and covers anything related to sound and vibration communication by invertebrates.  

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Harold Sutton April 27, 2011 | 7:24 a.m.

They are very entertaining for some people early in their emergence. And the size of them frightens a lot of people. They are harmless. WAhen I lived on a small farm and raised a lot of free range chickens, the chickens would go bonkers for them during the first few days, then start to ignore them a couple of days, and eventually almost flee from them. amy dogs would actually attempt to cover their ears.

They will do a lot of damage to young/small fruit trees. If someone reading this has successful experience preventing damage to trees, would you reply here.

(Report Comment)
Sean Leahy April 27, 2011 | 9:34 a.m.

Mr. Sutton,

Here is a Q&A about cicadas from the Cincinnati Enquirer that answers your question:

The answer you're looking for is about halfway through the story.

-Sean Leahy
Interactive Copy Desk

(Report Comment)
Robin Nuttall April 27, 2011 | 11:52 a.m.

Oh great. My dogs will be in hog (or rather, cicada) heaven. I, on the other hand, will not.

(Report Comment)
Mark Dolejs May 18, 2011 | 12:54 a.m.

Here in Durham, North Carolina they have been emerging in droves the last two weeks. With so much rain this week the emergence seems to be slowing down quite a bit.

Take a look at the time lapse video I did on a cicada shedding its exoskeleton and transforming to adult. The video is made up of over 1500 still images taken over a seven and a half hour period. These little guys are fascinating.

Thanks for looking!

(Report Comment)
Paul Allaire May 18, 2011 | 8:26 a.m.

Send them to IRAQ!!!

(Report Comment)
Sherry Mueller May 19, 2011 | 7:50 a.m.

We live in Ste. Genevieve county and the cicadas have just emerged as of yesterday; you could sit and listen to them crawling from the ground across the leaves.
They're so interesting to watch, we've been taking pictures at different stages and are waiting for the noise to begin, should be interesting.
I've read that many cultures eat them, our dogs agree and find them quite tasty. Our female lab grabs herself a snack of cicadas that are hanging from lower growing plants in the yard.

(Report Comment)

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