Getting Ready For 'An Unusual Wildlife Event' With The Return Of The 17-Year Cicadas

May 5, 2021

A female cicada inserting her eggs into a branch.
Credit Thomas O'Dell / Matthaei Botanical Gardens

Tom O'Dell, a collections and natural areas specialist at the University of Michigan's Matthaei Botanical Gardens and Nichols Arboretum, is excited for the 17-year return of the" "Noisy Brood X Periodical Cicadas." He talks with WEMU's Lisa Barry about what he considers to be "a natural wonder that occurs only in the United States, on Planet Earth every 17 years, which means it happens only four to five times in a person's lifetime!"


Tom O'Dell says the return of the 17-year cicadas is an "unusual wildlife event" he hopes people can appreciate and not be too anxious about what will happen. He doesn't expect the cicadas to cause any significant damage and says they are no harm to humans as they don't bite or sting. He says he has seen a few around already but says the warm weather will cause that number to increase, and they will soon emerge in parts of southeastern Michigan and in a handful of other states in the eastern half of the country, after developing underground for 17 years.

The City of Ann Arbor says covering vulnerable or smaller trees with mesh or netting is the best defense against cicadas and that insecticides should not be used. O'Dell says he recalls experiencing these cicadas back in May of 2004 and says the volume of the brood was loud enough to be heard up to a half-mile away. When standing in the middle of the brood, the volume was so loud that two people within a few feet of each other had to raise their voices to converse. 

He advises that young trees could be vulnerable to female cicadas laying eggs in their stems. Until emergence begins, homeowners will not know if they are in an area where large numbers will appear, so it's difficult to predict the risk of plant damage. It is also a matter of how much damage one finds acceptable. Mature trees will recover just fine. 

He adds he thinks that knowing more about the ecology of these insects and their place in the natural world will help reduce anxiety and increase the fascination for the upcoming emergence, and it will also help people decide how they will respond.

An adult cicada and the nymph body casing it recently emerged from.
Credit Thomas O'Dell / Matthaei Botanical Gardens

  

Non-commercial, fact based reporting is made possible by your financial support.  Make your donation to WEMU today to keep your community NPR station thriving.

Like 89.1 WEMU on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

— Lisa Barry is the host of All Things Considered on WEMU. You can contact Lisa at 734.487.3363, on Twitter @LisaWEMU, or email her at lbarryma@emich.edu