Professors say cicadas pose little threat

Cacophony from Brood 19 should peak in about two weeks
Wednesday, May 25, 2011 | 5:54 p.m. CDT; updated 9:54 a.m. CDT, Thursday, May 26, 2011
Brood 19 cicadas rest on a leaf of a shrub in a Windsor Road home on Tuesday.

COLUMBIA — The bulbous red eyes and loud buzzing of this summer's cicada brood might be intimidating, but professors from the MU College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources say the bugs are harmless.

"My main message is to fear not," Chris Starbuck, MU associate professor of horticulture, said.

Starbuck was one of four MU professors who talked about the cicada emergence during an informational meeting on Wednesday morning in the Agriculture Building on the MU campus. The experts addressed public concerns about the insects, especially relating to crops, orchards, trees and decorative landscaping.

The emergence should peak in Columbia about two to three weeks from now, the experts said. Cicada singing will increase as the weather warms and as more cicadas emerge from the ground.

"Just sit back and enjoy the show," entomology professor Bruce Barrett said.

The 13-year periodical cicadas began emerging in southern Missouri on about May 8, according to citizen reports, said Rob Lawrence, a forest entomologist at the Missouri Department of Conservation and an adjunct assistant professor of entomology at MU. The emergence began several days ago in Columbia.

This year's cicada swarm is known as Brood 19, or the Great Southern Brood. It is the largest brood in the country and extends throughout Missouri and much of the Midwest.

Temperatures must consistently exceed 60 degrees for cicada nymphs to creep out of the ground. Once they shed their skins and enter adulthood, they live for about six weeks feeding on plant juices. Male cicadas "sing" to attract mates.

Female cicadas lay their eggs in living branches between one-eighth and three-fourths of an inch in diameter, Lawrence said. Starbuck added that excessive egg-laying can damage twigs, but usually not to the extent that it endangers the life of a mature tree or shrub.

The insects may lay eggs on trees in orchards, but twig damage can be fixed with pruning, Barrett said.

Starbuck recommended people resist the temptation to use insecticide to kill cicadas. The poison harms birds and other animals, and it can kill beneficial insects. Pets might also suffer if they eat poisoned cicadas.

Wrapping mesh or cheesecloth around vulnerable branches is a better way to protect small trees or ornamental shrubs such as roses, Starbuck said.

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Margaret Oberhaus May 26, 2011 | 11:23 a.m.

It seems that this year's cicada are not as loud or deafening as they were in 1998. Could this be that the 13 year and the 7 year cicada came out at the same time in 1998 or maybe we just haven't hit the peak yet?

(Report Comment)
Michael Williams May 26, 2011 | 1:27 p.m.

Margaret: Wasn't that last cicada outburst the product of THREE broods of varying incubation lengths that happened in the same year....something like every hundred or more years or so?

7, 13, and 17 year locusts. What's with the prime numbers, anyway???????????????

Some entomologist needs to chime in.

(Report Comment)
Katy Mooney May 26, 2011 | 2:25 p.m.

According to what I learned at the meeting, both the 17-year cicadas and 13-year cicadas emerged in 1998, but their territories have only a small overlap. So areas within the territory of the 13-year cicadas should have similar numbers of cicadas as in 1998. The speakers at the meeting cited two reasons why many local citizens say that this year's batch of cicadas doesn't seem to be as big as other years. First, cool temperatures recently have delayed the emergence of nymphs. The population is expected to increase as the weather warms up. Second, the distribution of cicadas is very patchy. The state of the area 13 years ago must be taken into account - construction, tree removal or pesticides may have affected nymphs. The speakers dismissed the idea of the recent heavy rains as causing damage to nymphs still underground.

(Report Comment)
Michael Williams May 26, 2011 | 2:44 p.m.

Katy: Sounds like you know what you're talking about.

The ranges didn't overlap? Or dear....! And I thought the last batch was a bunch! Saved a bunch on dog food, tho.

Since 1998, I've planted ca. 1000 walnut, pecan, tulip-poplar, and oak trees at my farm. They range in age from 2-9 years, 3 feet to 24 feet tall.

Sounds like they are gonna take a hit.

I need an airplane sprayer with 2 tons of permethrin....anybody know a good pilot that can fly in small pastures below the treeline???????

Good news is....the turkey population at my place is gonna go up.....Easypickin's-R-Us.

(Report Comment)

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