Myths about cicadas, our longest-living insect

By Katie Kane Shipka

OSU Ext. master gardener volunteer


By now you are hearing the “lovely, lilting tune” of the 17-year cicada (Magicicada septendcim), and have been looking forward to them about as much as an unwelcome relative.

Be assured they will not be around very long – about four or so weeks – and will not return again until 2036.

Although we may know some information about the cicada, let’s examine some myths that surround them.

They are of the insect order Hemiptera, which includes many other insects including aphids and mealy bugs. This classification is identified by their piercing and sucking mouthparts, used to suck xylem fluid from trees and woody bushes through their proboscis.

One pest and plant clinic question, because of their mouthparts, concerned the ability for cicadas to suck our blood. Even if one flies on you, no blood will be lost. The cicada is a benign insect that has neither the ability to sting, bite nor transmit disease.

There is an extremely large number of cicada adults that emerge from the nymph stage to the adult stage, which is when we notice and hear them. Because they do not all emerge at once, their vast numbers are initially alarming, and minimal damage to trees might be noticed when females lay their eggs, making slits in tree limbs to deposit them. Crops are not damaged, as adult cicadas only lay eggs in stems of woody plants.

Native Americans thought the cicada emergence had an evil significance. Colonists viewed them as a “locust plague,” but locusts are another species classification, including the grasshopper – not related to cicadas.

The black “W” on the outer end of the front wings does not foretell a coming war, and they also do not poison fruit by stinging it. The male cicada who sings to the female, does not sing at night, and the only sounds of the night are from katydids, crickets and frogs.

Cicadas, our longest-living insect and only native to North America, are noisy, flying and active insects for only a short while, and not very often will they be seen.

They do not harm either people or plants, so plant your flowers knowing they will be safe.

One caveat: if you have a young tree or woody bush planted within the past year, the female may lay eggs in branches of it – the ones the size of a pencil. You can protect it by wrapping cheesecloth to prevent their entry. Protection is only needed while the males sing.

Because so many cicadas emerge simultaneously, birds and mammals will feast for a few weeks.

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