Will the Cicadas Hurt Your Plants?

Seventeen-year Cidaca
A brood of 17-year cicadas, similar to this one that emerged in 2007 in Illinois, is on the way to the New York City area. Photo by William Pixler.

You’ve no doubt heard about the large brood of 17-year cicadas that will soon emerge in New York City and beyond. If you garden, you’ve probably wondered what these gigantic insects might do to your plants. The good news is that adult cicadas (Magicicada species), though large and noisy, do not tend to do much damage. The primary reason for their emergence is to mate! That deafening song is a mating call. Eating plants is probably one of the last things on a cicada’s mind.

Cicada grubs do eat plant roots and are a common underground pest, but they’re not too serious, and any harm that this brood has done was done in previous years. The only damage adult cicadas are likely to cause plants, even during a heavy emergence, is from ovipositing. The females cut small V-shaped slits into tree bark or plant stems to deposit their eggs. This can cause branches or stems to flag, but it’s generally not a major concern for healthy plants and trees. Cicadas can’t bite or sting people, and they are not poisonous. They are mostly pesky only because of their loud singing, imposing presence, and conspicuous numbers. Please do not think about using pesticides on them. It’s unnecessary and not at all justified.

Overall, the emergence of the 17-year cicadas should be an amazing phenomenon to observe. They are quite beautiful in their own right, and their song is among the loudest in the insect world. They are also one of the longest-lived insects on earth and are a symbol of good fortune and immortality in various cultures around the world. So instead of likening cicadas to a plague of locusts, try to enjoy their short visit and appreciate them in all their noisy glory. You can check out Radiolab’s citizen science–produced cicada-prediction map and read more about this Magicicada brood online at EarthSky.org.


Comments

May 9, 2013
Bonnie

I generally love the cicadas’ song, but it’ll be interesting to see if it’s all the more deafening this year with so many of them doing their 17-year gig. They are BIZARRE looking creatures…beautiful? Only to a true insect lover like you, Sue!


May 10, 2013
Rx

I love the idea of thinking of cicadas as something beautiful rather than a nuisance.


May 13, 2013
Mary Finn

Wherever you see them, it’s a good bet every square inch of ground hasn’t been cemented over, so they’re not all bad. It’s when you DON’T see them, you might have to worry.


May 14, 2013
Lori

I have heard the dead corpses can create an unpleasant smell. But just knowing that your piece of woods hasn’t been disturbed for generations (17 years how many times around) is a cause for celebration!


May 2, 2014
Aunt Bonnie

To a child who spent many summer evenings listening to cicadas, then being lucky enough to find an empty intact “skeleton” and keeping it in a match box…. Memories….thank goodness some things never change.



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