Written by: Nora Wagner, Director of Programs
We all know “that” guest that comes to visit, talks too loud, doesn’t look very nice and informs us they will be back. Well, nature has its own version of this and it is time to prepare for the Cicada.
Natural phenomenon such as the 17 year cicadas are events that are often times embroiled in legend. Aspects of such events that people remember from their childhoods for example often overtakes the reality of the situation.
Looking at the headlines, the uninformed might think the end of times was nearing. From the really fright inducing- “How to Survive a Plague: Insect Edition” (Huffington Post), to the slightly alarming – “Billions of cicadas to infest the East Coast” (NBC’s Today Show), to the downright exploitative – “Everything You Need to Know About the Impending Cicada Sex Invasion” (The Atlantic Wire), the fear mongering topic of the season is all about cicadas.
Is any of this based on science? Does unattractive and noisy mean dangerous? In the case of the cicadas, the opposite is true. They are among the most misunderstood maligned little visitor and it is time to clear up a few myths.
Here are 5 of the most popular urban legends causing concern about the impending cicadageddon:
Myth: Cicadas are invading the East Coast and you should stay in your home.
Cicadas just want some lovin’. How can you not admire that?
Fact: They do swarm at times, but they won’t harm you. If you are running landscape equipment you may find yourself at the center of a cicada love fest.. Don’t worry – they’re just showing that they are “turned on” for your power tools that vibrate, attracting a male cicada response.
Myth: Cicadas are poisonous to animals and humans.
If you’re on the Atkins diet, cicadas are yummy indulgences!
Fact: Unless you spray them with toxic chemicals ( and please don’t!), cicadas are not poisonous, and in fact are eaten by some people. Cicadas are low in fat, high in protein and carb free… so if you are on the Atkins diet, indulge at will.
Myth: Cicadas only appear once every 17 years.
Source: Cicada researcher John Cooley via Magicicada.org. The Washington Post. Published on April 9, 2013, 7:13 p.m.
Fact: There are two types of cicadas – annual and periodic. Periodic cicadas are the species that appear once every 13 to 17 years, and each brood staggers life cycles and occupies a different geographical location.
Myth: Cicadas damage trees and shrubs.
Fact: Damage caused by nymphs feeding on plant roots is very minor. The adults do not feed on the upper portions of the tree after they emerge, and females laying eggs cause minor damage to small branches where eggs are deposited. It may be tempting to treat trees with insecticides, but there is no real reason to do so. In fact, molted cicada shells can be collected and used in garden compost.
Myth: Cicadas are locusts.
The Pennsylvania Department of Forestry knows the difference between cicadas and locusts – do you?
Fact: Don’t start planning your apocalypse party yet. Locusts are in the same family of insects as grasshoppers. The confusion exists because both locusts and cicadas emerge in periodic swarms.
At Duke Farms, our mission is to be a model of environmental stewardship and to inform visitors how to be informed stewards of the land. One of the great things we do is to draw attention to some of the natural wonders that are strange, wonderful and magical. Cicadas are part of the cycle of nature. We encourage you to treat your house guests well, because we promise you they won’t be back for a while!
For more information on cicadas, please visit www.dukefarms.org and we also recommend this innovative cicada tracker via WNYC’s RadioLabs found at http://project.wnyc.org/cicadas/