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Hartselle Enquirer

After 13 years underground, the cicadas are coming 

By Wes Tomlinson  

For the Enquirer  

 

Millions of local cicadas are about to emerge from a 13-year underground hibernation, and farmers are concerned about the impact the creatures could have on their fruit trees. 

Alabama has over 20 species of annual cicadas that appear every summer, but this year the state will experience the emergence of periodic Brood 19 cicadas. 

Morgan County Regional Extension Agent Jayne Luetzow said Brood 19 will hatch in Alabama as early as next month and residents should expect millions of the bugs. 

Luetzow said the last time Alabama experienced the emergence of a cicada brood was in 2011, when this year’s Brood 19 cicadas hatched and burrowed underground. 

“We should see them emerging from the ground in the next two weeks or so and they will be here up until mid-May,” Luetzow said. 

Meredith Schrader, an entomologist with the extension agency, said Brood 19 cicadas have red eyes, dark bodies and clear wings with orange veins and are three-quarters of an inch long, smaller than most annual species of cicadas that Alabama sees each year. 

They’re also loud. Their collective songs can be as loud as jet engines and scientists who study them often wear earmuffs to protect their hearing, according to The Associated Press. 

Schrader said the brood, high in protein, is harmless and there should be no concern if household pets or even children consume them. 

Indeed, they are included in some cuisine. Audubon Insectarium in New Orleans serves a green salad with apple, almonds, blueberry vinaigrette — and roasted cicadas.  

Luetzow said cicadas do not fly more than 50 meters from where they emerged and so they will not travel across the state. 

“So the cicadas in Morgan County, you’re not going to see them in Lawrence County because they cannot fly that far,” Luetzow said. 

Luetzow said the cicada’s purpose for emerging is to mate and lay their eggs into young trees, with their preferred birthing place being fruit trees. 

“They don’t like trees or shrubs that are very gummy, so they’re not going to attack pine trees,” Luetzow said. “Fruit trees like apple trees have new, young foliage and branches. The female cicada will insert her egg into the branches, so they won’t eat on the foliage. After that, she’ll fly off.” 

After cicadas implant their eggs into tree branches, the young cicadas will hatch and burrow into the nearby soil until they are mature enough to emerge. 

Farmer Wes Isom said he remembers the Brood 19 cicadas from 2011 and noticed they were more abundant in Tennessee than in Alabama. He owns Isom’s Orchard in Athens where he grows apple and peach trees on 80 acres. 

“They can be a little bit of a problem,” Isom said. “The last hatching we had, I did notice the farther you went into Tennessee, the thicker they were. We didn’t see too many problems on peach trees, but they could pose a problem with apple trees. The cicadas do not disrupt the vascular system on the tree, but the new tissue laid by the cicadas could set it back and stunt its growth.” 

Isom said while his apple trees suffered minimal damage in 2011, his farmer friends in Madison County were not so lucky. 

“We know a family who farms in Madison County, Scott’s Orchard, and they straddle the Alabama and Tennessee line,” Isom said. “You could see more damage in their young apple trees. Their old apple trees, it didn’t seem to affect them as much as with the young trees.” 

Luetzow said farmers will usually spray insecticide around their trees to keep cicadas out, but Isom said he will not spray unless swarms of them target his trees. 

“Unless they get real bad, we won’t try to spray for them,” Isom said. “It wouldn’t be feasible to treat the ground before they emerge because they have quit feeding anyway and to try to put a soil-based insecticide, you wouldn’t get much benefit out of it. They’re in the surrounding woodland too, so you can’t get rid of them.” 

Moulton farmer Larry LouAllen said he is also waiting to spray insecticide on his peach trees until he sees the impact of the cicada brood. 

“It’s a wait-and-see situation, we’ll just deal with it as it comes,” LouAllen said. “We’re going to wait and see what the damage is and if we’ll even have damage. We’ve had cicadas before but not to the extent of where we had to control them.” 

However problematic the cicada onslaught will be locally, it could be worse. Other parts of the United States will experience the rare phenomenon of two cicada broods appearing simultaneously this spring. 

Brood 13 cicadas will emerge in the northern and midwestern states, overlapping in some areas with Brood 19 cicadas.  

“Brood 13 is going to be more toward Illinois, particularly southern Illinois, and Brood 19 we will just see here in Alabama,” Luetzow said. “Where they will overlap will actually be in the Midwest.” 

The last time the broods overlapped was over 200 years ago. 

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