If you’ve recently moved to the South, and you’re curious about the loud insect noise at night, the buzz you’re hearing is the “Song of the South,” otherwise known as the call of the cicada. These insects can create quite a stir each summer as they emerge from years or even decades of hibernation beneath the frost line to feed, mate, and lay eggs. This summer, the buzz is all about the 17- year cicada. Read on to learn more about these unique, long-lived bugs that make loud noises at night.
How Can You Identify a Cicada?
One of the quickest ways to pick out a cicada is by its sound. That loud insect noise at night comes from the cicadas unique type of abdomen, called a tymbal, which acts like a drum—when the cicada vibrates this tymbal (similar to the motion created by pressing on the top of a metal bottle cap), it creates a loud buzzing noise. The sound of multiple cicadas vibrating in unison can top 100 decibels.
Cicadas are relatively large compared to most types of insects native to the U.S., with adult males and females often reaching lengths of several inches. Cicadas have relatively large eyes and wings compared to the rest of their bodies, and often can be picked out from other large winged insects by their white, vibrating abdomen.
Another way to identify a cicada is by observing its shell. As cicadas grow, they shed their outer shell, leaving a perfect hollow model of a cicada behind. You can often find these cicada shells on trees, roots, and other low-lying areas where these insects can feel somewhat secure during the vulnerable shedding process.
Where Are Cicadas Found?
Where do cicadas live? Everywhere! Cicadas are found on all continents except Antarctica. There are a number of species native to North Carolina, including the Scrub Cicada, the Southern Grass Cicada, and several 13- and 17-year varieties. North Carolina is home to the largest North American cicada species, the Northern Dusk Singing Cicada. In general, cicadas prefer warmer climates with longer summers, although some thrive in places like Canada or northern Asia.
How Long Do Cicadas Live?
Cicadas have a long life span compared to most insects with almost all species living at least two years (and some brood types can live as long as 17 years). How often cicadas come around depends on the species. While the cicada is still in the larval stage, it will tunnel through the soil for food. This larval stage lasts less than a year for cicada species that have an annual cycle but can range from 13 to 17 years for those with periodic life cycles.
Brood VI, which has a 17-year periodic life cycle, is currently emerging in North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia. Once this brood lays its eggs in the soil, it will quickly disappear; the next Brood VI emergence won’t take place until 2034. Still, there will be plenty of annual and proto-periodical cicadas living out their shorter life cycles in the meantime, keeping those summer night insect sounds coming, year after year.
Are Cicadas Destructive?
A single cicada or two shouldn’t cause any problems for your garden; however, as those who have heard them can attest, they usually travel in large groups. In fact, some scientists have estimated that more than one million cicadas can exist in a single square mile during peak mating season.
This can spell trouble because of cicadas’ unique feeding methods—unlike other insects, cicadas have a hard beak used to suck fluids from plants. When many cicadas converge on a single plant or tree, they can cause significant and often permanent damage over a short period of time. Larval cicadas can also cause problems by feeding on tree roots, and the damage may go unnoticed until your tree’s appearance has begun to suffer.
The Cicada’s Buzz Is Worse Than Its Bite!
The sheer volume of the noise generated by a large group of cicadas can prevent you from getting a good night’s sleep or enjoying a peaceful evening on your patio, although many people find the noise soothing, as they get used to it. As we mentioned, a few in your lawn won’t impact your vegetation – it takes a large number to make a damaging impact. The bottom line – in small numbers, cicadas are just another one of those charming, if loud, Southern traditions.
If you are concerned that your plants and trees are suffering from cicada damage or you are simply not interested in the nightly cicada symphony, a pest control company may be able to help. A professional pest control service can help you develop a plan to mitigate damage and possibly turn down the volume.
Clegg’s Pest Control offers both residential and commercial termite and pest control services throughout North and South Carolina. Contact Clegg’s pest management professionals today at (888) 972-0366.