Mar. 5—CUMBERLAND — It's an event 17 years in the making. The cicadas in Brood X are coming to have an extravaganza of flutter and chirps among the treetops.
In May, swarms of the insect will rise from their underground slumber and take over large swaths of land throughout the mid-Atlantic for about six weeks.
"In some areas, there will be as many as 1.5 million per acre that emerge simultaneously," said Michael J. Raupp, an emeritus entomology professor at the University of Maryland. "They certainly are beautiful as they go in the insect world, with their bright red eyes, orange wings and black bodies."
Don't fret, however. Cicadas are harmless to humans. In fact, they may even be considered a tasty snack. Even pets can munch on a few, but don't let them out of your view. If they eat a bunch, they could end up with stomach issues.
"They are not going to bite or sting, go up to cats or carry away young children. I would say if you hold cicadas, and if the cicadas are thirsty, they might try to give you a poke with their beak. They suck plant sap," Raupp said.
"People can eat cicadas. I certainly will be eating cicadas, as well. I've had them boiled and stir fried, in omelets, with a little garlic and olive oil sautéed in a pan," he said. "In many, many parts of the world, bugs are definitely on the menu. It's only really in Western culture that we don't eat them, which is surprising because we eat things like oysters and clams and crabs."
While not harmful to people, they will have a visible impact on some trees. They do what's called flagging, where after they lay their eggs on tree branches, the tips of the branches die and sometimes fall to the ground.
For mature trees, the process has no long-lasting effects, but young trees might struggle. The cicada's process could severely harm or kill young or recently transplanted trees.
Due to that fact, Raupp recommends waiting until the fall planting season to plant this year rather than doing so during the spring planting season. Another option for trees that were planted in the last couple of years is to buy cicada nets online.
"The trick here is the mesh size has to be one centimeter or less," said Raupp. "If you use a large mesh, like 5 centimeters, the cicadas are going to get through it."
As well, the netting is much more effective than insecticides. Spraying a tree will take care of the cicadas currently on it, but in three days or so more cicadas have arrived.
Another piece of advice, said Raupp, is that for someone who likes and is interested in nature, it will be like a National Geographic documentary in the backyard; however, for those less than thrilled at the prospect of millions of insects bombarding their everyday lives, it might be best to schedule a beach vacation for a couple of weeks.
"For people that like nature, this is going to be just a fantastic opportunity that happens nowhere else in the universe," said Raupp.
Mount St. Joseph University has a free app called Cicada Safari, which can be used to take pictures of the cicadas. Scientists will then use the data collected to use geo-referencing to determine the distribution and timing of the cicadas.
In all, there are 12 broods of 17-year cicadas and three broods of 13-year cicadas. A brood is just from where certain cicadas emerge geographically. In fact, there are three species of cicadas that all emerge simultaneously within any given brood.
The three distinct species of 17-year cicadas are M. septendecim, M. cassini and M. septendecula.
Raupp has a website, http://bugoftheweek.com/, dedicated to bug facts.
Follow staff writer Brandon Glass on Twitter @Bglass13.