Cicada invasion 2016: Billions of bugs prepare to swarm Virginia

Cicada web pic


BLACKSBURG (WSLS10)– It’s about to get a lot noisier along the East Coast, with hordes of cicadas preparing to emerge after 17 years underground. The Virginia Tech Insect Identification Lab says billions of the insects will make themselves heard in Maryland, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and here in the Commonwealth.

Bugs from this brood last hatched back in 1999 and now they’re preparing to surface again. Once the ground temperature reaches 64° the cicadas will come out.  With temperatures getting warmer and warmer, we’re expected to see—and hear them, within the next couple of weeks

“Because it’s every 17 years, people aren’t that familiar with the call,” says Eric Day, the manager of the VT Insect Identification Lab. “For me, it even catches me off guard. I think, ‘Is that sirens? What is it? Is there a big fire over there?’ And it turns out it’s these cicadas making a lot of noise.”

In areas where cicadas are more dense, like wooded areas, there could be up to a million of the critters in just one square acre. The brood that is emerging in the next few weeks is known as Brood V (5). It won’t be widespread across our area, but mostly concentrated in the Shenandoah Valley, Alleghany Highlands and Bath County.

The cicadas will be out for a few weeks, mating laying eggs. Those eggs are expected to hatch by early June and make their way into the ground, where they’ll stay until 2033.

“It’s amazing,” explains Day. “They’re feeding on the roots. They’re feeding and growing very slowly, timing their molt so they all finish at the exact same time. They have a synchronized emergence. You do get a few stragglers the year before or after, but for the most part, they’re all coming out at the same time.”

During the time the cicadas are above ground, they can damage young trees—which leads to major problems for farmers.

“There actually is an economic impact,” says Day. “It’s for fruit growers, commercial fruit growers, they’ve set new fruit trees. Because this insect lays its eggs on the twigs, it damages the twigs. It can disfigure fruit trees, so for a commercial grower, it really becomes a big issue.”

It can be such a big problem for farmers, that some won’t plant any new trees for several years before the emergence of cicadas in an effort to prevent the major damage. But for the average homeowner with only a few trees in their yard, the cicadas won’t have much of an impact. Even if you have a newly planted tree, you might lose a few branches, but it should be fine.

The good news is, cicadas are not poisonous, they don’t sting and they don’t bite. Much of the hype about their emergence comes from how rare they are and a curiosity that many of us have about them.

We’re still a few years away from a complete cicada takeover in the Roanoke Valley, which is expected with Brood IX (9). That will happen in 2020, when the cicadas will be widespread across Southwest Virginia. Until then, your best chance to see the cicadas this year is by traveling to Alleghany or Bath County.

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