Cicadas Make Noisy Return

May 31, 2011

After 13 years, another life cycle of the periodical cicada, classified by entomologists as Brood XIX, sing their shrill tunes in western Kentucky. According to Douglas Johnson, University of Kentucky extension professor of entomology, this brood of cicadas emerged in Hopkins County around May 16 and will continue through June. Johnson is a resident of Princeton. The insects feed on sap in the roots of trees for 13 years during the nymph stage, and then come out of the ground, shed their shells and become adults. After breeding, they die.

One can blame the “noise” on the male cicadas, which are calling to the females from among the trees to mate.

“Those are the cicada love songs,” said Johnson.

This is brood 19 of a 13-year periodical cicada. He advises not to set new trees during the year of their emergence, because these hatchlings can cause loss of tree growth.

“They will feed on the roots of new landscaping, fruit trees and vineyards for almost the entire 13 years. The female likes to lay her eggs on branches which are a half-inch to three-quarters of an inch thick,” said the professor, a Madisonville native who works for the research and education center in Princeton.

Cicadas are quite tasty for cats and dogs, because they are loaded with protein and fat.

“They’re great food for animals — they gorge on them,” said Johnson.

“They are not poisonous to animals or humans, and they will not bite or sting. They spend most of their time out at night.”

Dustin Blue, 24, owns Blue Boy Lawn and Landscapes on Island Ford Road. He is too young to remember the last emergence of these cicadas, and he was surprised to see so many of them swarming.

“I have seen a large number of them crawling out of the ground, and a lot of them on trees and houses,” he said.

“They are swarming by the thousands near the wooded areas, especially when we mow and disturb them,” said Blue. They look like a black cloud.”

Twelve neighboring states experience the return of the Brood XIX cicada, but only Kentuckians who reside between the Purchase and Pennyrile western areas will hear the songs of this red-eyed and clear-winged periodical cicada for about another month.