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EPA Says: DON'T USE PESTICIDES On Cicadas, In 15 States
(Beyond Pesticides, May 17, 2004)
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, in a rare break from its message that pesticides can be used safely for almost any pest management situation regardless of whether they are necessary, effective or there is a less toxic way, is doing what many advocate it should do in more situations, advising the public with the message: "Don't use pesticides" and "Don't panic." The cicadas are here, expected in 15 states!!! But don't panic since they don't harm people or property. The cicadas will show up in high numbers throughout eastern states and the Midwest (Delaware, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Maryland, Michigan, North Carolina, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia).

Although you've probably heard them sing from high up in the trees during the summer, you may not have seen a 17-year cicada brood. Most are familiar with the cricket-like chorus that accompanies the humidity and thunderstorms that East Coast summers bring. This May through June, however, some areas of the country can expect an onslaught of millions of cicadas. That's right, millions. Several species-called periodical cicadas-have much longer life-cycles (13 or 17 years, for example) than the ones that typically come each summer, called annual cicadas. One of the species that will arrive in trees this spring has spent a remarkable 17 years maturing underground.

What is a cicada?
The cicada is a flying insect that can reach 1 to 1 and ½ inches long. After spending most of its life as a nymph underground, during the spring of the 13th or 17th year, depending on the species, the periodical cicada emerges from the ground via exit tunnels and finds a nearby tree or shrub on which to complete its maturation into adulthood (many individuals have been known to exit on the same night). Once the cicada molts, its soft body quickly hardens into an exoskeleton and the wings develop. After a short maturation period, the adult male will gather with other male cicadas and emit an unmistakable and loud song to attract female cicadas. After mating, female cicadas will lay their eggs in a slit they make near ends of small tree branches before dying. Adult cicadas only live a few weeks. After six to ten weeks, the eggs hatch, and the nymphs drop to the ground and burrow to find a suitable food source such as roots, where they begin their 13 or 17 year long development.

Why are there so many of them?
Scientists believe that the significant number of cicadas in a periodic species is an evolutionary adaptation to ensure survival of the species. This also helps to explain why the cicada has not developed a biting or stinging defense mechanism; the sheer number of cicadas in the population practically guarantees that predators will not be able to eat all of them. Thus, individual defense mechanisms are limited to the "squawks," or loud protest noises, cicadas make when handled or disturbed.

Are cicadas dangerous?
Cicadas do not bite or sting and are considered harmless to people or animals. In fact, they provide an abundant food source for many other animals. If handled cicadas may emit a loud "squawk," which is more startling than anything else. Although you may need to sweep them off the pavement or from other places, bug-sprays to kill or repel them are not needed since they do not harm people or cause significant property damage.

What if my cat or dog eats a cicada?
Cicadas are not poisonous and many animals happily make a meal of these insects. The sheer number of cicadas may tempt an animal to over indulge, which may be hard on your pet's digestive system. Nevertheless, you should not be concerned if your pet takes a liking to cicadas.

Will cicadas damage my garden or lawn?
Cicada nymphs do feed on the plant fluids and roots of woody vegetation. Most shrubs and trees, however, can withstand even heavy infestations of cicadas. However, the egg laying by adult females can cause damage to vegetation. Because they deposit eggs on the growing tips of trees and shrubs by cutting the vegetation, it may cause the terminal end of the twig to die. Mature trees and shrubs generally will recover from the short term infestation. You may want to protect young shrubs or trees by using a physical barrier, such as cheesecloth or fine netting. Pesticides are not necessary.

Cicadas should not be confused with locusts.
Locusts are grasshoppers in the order Orthoptera and have chewing mouthparts and a voracious appetite through their life. Cicadas, in the order Homoptera, have sucking mouthparts (like little soda straws) and feed only as nymphs underground, on tree roots. They are in the same family as the familiar annual dog-day cicadas whose songs are associated with hot summer days.

The DON'TS
1. Don't use pesticides. Because the cicada are harmless, use of pesticides is unnecessary. Besides, ciacas are flyers - the cicadas from the neighbor's yard will fly right into yours.
2. Don't panic. They're only bugs, and while they look fearsome and fave hard body parts, they don't bite and sting like some bees and flies do.

What you can expect.
1. The bodies of dead cicada littering the ground.
2. The constant hum of cicadas singing during the warmest part of the day.
3. An occasional cicada landing on you.
4. An occasional cicada crawling on a table, chair, or barbecue.
5. They will be gone in a few weeks to begin their 17-year cycle all over again.

TAKE ACTION: A great opportunity to teach children about insects and how we can and do live with them. This learning experience is a teachable moment of how insects are part of biological systems and using pesticides is not necessary. Contact Beyond Pesticides (202-543-5450) or see our website's alternative factsheets to learn about all the alternative approaches to pest management that are effective without toxic pesticides.

Additional Resources
For more information on cicadas, including sound clips, pictures, and maps, please explore the following web sites. These are just a sampling of information available about cicadas.

Beware of those advising pesticide use for cicadas, including some state authorities.
General Information:
Fact sheet from the National Agricultural Library, U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Illinois: Newsletter article about cicadas in Illinois.
Indiana:Describes the Indiana University Cicada Project, which is investigating the causes and consequences of the 2004 cicada outbreak. Fact sheet on periodical cicadas in Indiana.
Maryland:Fact sheet about cicadas. Links to information for homeowners, landscape professionals, teachers and students
Massachusetts: Fact sheet with photos of various life-stages of cicadas and their egg-laying behavior.
Michigan:Cicada life cycle and photos
Ohio:Fact sheet on cicadas in Ohio
Pennsylvania:Information about cicadas and specifically in Pennsylvania.
Virginia:Includes information about schedules for emergence of the various "broods" of cicadas.

Source: EPA