Cicadas are large, plant-feeding insects known for their loud mating calls and discarded exoskeletons that cling to trees and vegetation. Although they may be harmless to people, plants, and property, having swarms of cicadas around can still be bothersome to some.
To help manage this issue, there are a few tips on controlling cicada populations. One effective method is to cover young shrubs with a ¼ inch netting, which provides a barrier against egg-laying female cicadas. This commercially available netting is easy to use and helps protect your plants during peak cicada season.
There are several types of cicadas, but the 17-year variety belonging to Brood X is known for emerging en masse, with up to 1.5 million cicadas per acre coming out of the ground when irises begin to bloom. Understanding their life cycle and peak times of appearance can help you better prepare for managing the cicada population around your home.
Periodical cicadas are a unique group of cicada species that emerge en masse every 13 or 17 years. Their appearance in such large quantities varies in different regions, as seen in the 17-year cicadas predominantly found in the Eastern United States, also known as Brood X.
Adult periodical cicadas have distinct black bodies and large red-brown eyes, with membranous wings featuring orange veins.
- Black bodies, red-brown eyes
- Orange-veined wings
- Emergence every 13 or 17 years
Unlike periodical cicadas, annual cicadas emerge every year, typically from July to September. Their lifespan is shorter, and they can be found in various regions across the globe.
Adult annual cicadas display a mix of colors, such as black, tan, green, and rust.
- Black, tan, green, rust-colored bodies
- Appearance every year
- Widespread distribution
The life cycle of both cicadas starts with females laying eggs on tree branches. After hatching, the nymphs fall to the ground and burrow into the soil, where they feed on tree roots for the duration of their development.
The nymphs of periodical cicadas spend 13 or 17 years underground before emerging, whereas annual cicada nymphs complete this phase in 2 to 5 years. When ready to transform into adults, they come out of the ground and shed their exoskeletons, leaving behind discarded shells.
|Feature||Periodical Cicadas||Annual Cicadas|
|Emergence frequency||13 or 17 years||Every year|
|Colors||Black, red-brown||Black, tan, green, rust|
|Nymph development||13 or 17 years||2 to 5 years|
Cicadas are generally harmless to humans and plants, but during cicada season, it’s essential to protect young trees and shrubs from egg-laying females by using ¼ inch netting.
Recognizing Cicada Damage
Damage to Trees
Cicada damage in trees can be subtle, so know the signs helps mitigate and address issues effectively. Female cicadas use an appendage called an ovipositor to create slits in twigs and lay their eggs. This can result in:
- Branch dieback
- Leaves turning brown
Example of a damaged tree:
- A young oak tree with brown leaves at the end of some branches, indicating cicada egg-laying.
Impact on Gardens
While cicadas are not harmful to humans or pets, they can still impact your garden. Here’s a brief overview of their effect on plants and gardens:
- Cicadas aerate soil with their emergence holes
- Their feeding does not typically harm established plants
- Egg-laying can damage young trees and shrubs
- Tunnels created by nymphs may disrupt roots
Example of impacted garden:
A sapling with wilted or broken branches due to cicada egg-laying.
Comparison of cicada damage on different plants:
|Plant Type||Severity of Damage||Factors|
|Young trees||High||Branch damage from egg-laying|
|Mature trees||Low||Little to no damage, mostly aesthetic|
|Annuals||Low||Minimal impact on flowering or growth|
To protect young trees and shrubs, use a ¼-inch netting to cover them and prevent female cicadas from accessing the branches. This simple method, when done properly, can help mitigate potential damage to your garden.
Methods for Controlling Cicadas
Although cicadas are generally harmless, if you have a major infestation and want to get rid of cicadas, insecticides can be an option. Some examples of insecticides that can be used are Sevin and Malathion. Use them sparingly, as these chemicals can also harm beneficial insects.
- Effective against high number of cicadas
- Harmful to beneficial insects and the environment
- May require multiple applications
One of the most effective ways to manage cicada populations is to encourage the presence of their natural predators. Some common predators include:
- Cicada killer wasps
- Beneficial insects like parasitic flies
These predators can help keep the cicada population in check without causing harm to the environment.
Physical barriers can help prevent cicadas from causing damage to your garden or trees. Methods include:
- Placing landscape netting or foil around young plants or trees
- Applying barrier tape to prevent nymphs from climbing, thus reducing their chances of mating
This approach is ideal if you want to protect a specific plant or tree without using chemicals or disturbing their natural predators.
Hiring an Exterminator
If cicada infestation is affecting a large area or causing significant damage, it might be worth hiring an exterminator. They can help manage the situation and apply appropriate measures.
|Insecticides||Natural Predators||Physical Barriers||Exterminator|
|Ease of Implementation||Medium||Medium||Medium||Low|
Keep in mind that cicadas are a natural part of the ecosystem and do not typically cause long-term damage. In most cases, tolerating their short-lived emergence might be the best approach, as their presence can also benefit the environment.
Dealing with Cicada Emergence
Managing Noise and Disruption
Cicadas, especially the Brood X variety, are known for their loud mating calls. To deal with this noise, consider using earplugs for outdoor activities or while sleeping. Additionally, you can also:
- Install soundproofing materials around your home, particularly on windows
- Use white noise machines to drown out the cicada sounds
Another disruption caused by cicadas is the holes they create when they emerge from their burrows in states like Georgia, Maryland, and North Carolina. These holes can become unsightly and damage your garden.
For this issue, you can:
- Fill in the holes with fresh soil
- Add compost or mulch to reinvigorate the garden
Protecting Pools and Hot Tubs
Cicada infestations can lead to an increased presence of insects in pools and hot tubs. To prevent this, follow these steps:
- Use covers on pools and hot tubs when not in use
- Install insect-proof screens around pool or hot tub areas
- Regularly skim the water surface to remove any cicadas
Comparing two popular methods – foil & barrier tape and insect-proof screens:
|Foil & Barrier Tape||Easy to apply, cost-effective||May not cover all entry points|
|Insect-proof Screens||Provides a more complete barrier, re-usable||May be time-consuming to install, higher cost|
By following these tips, you’ll be better prepared to manage the noise and disruption caused by cicadas during their emergence. The key is to be proactive in addressing these issues and maintaining a comfortable living environment in your home and outdoor spaces.
Region-Specific Cicada Information
State-by-State Cicada Emergence
In the following states, cicada emergence varies:
- Magicicada species: Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, South Carolina, Tennessee
- Other species: Alabama, Arkansas, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Oklahoma, Wisconsin
The Magicicada species have periodical cicadas. They emerge either every 13 or 17 years. Here are some key characteristics:
- Black body
- Red-brown eyes
- Orange-veined wings
For example, in Indiana, Brood X emerges every 17 years with up to 1.5 million cicadas per acre.
Other States Cicada Emergence
The annual or “dog-day” cicadas have quite different characteristics:
- Green or camouflaged body
- Smaller antennae
- Life cycle up to 5 years
In these states, cicada populations emerge every year, like in Iowa.
Cicada Life Cycle
Cicada nymphs spend most of their life underground, feeding on tree roots and nesting. They create tunnels in the dirt, and when they’re ready to emerge, they molt into adults. This is typically in the summer months. Adult cicadas soon mate and lay eggs on tree branches, then die.
Predators: Killer Wasps
Cicadas have natural predators like the killer wasps. These wasps hunt cicadas, paralyze them, and drag them to their nest to feed their larvae. This helps regulate the cicada population.
Comparison Table: Magicicada vs. Dog-Day Cicadas
|Life Cycle||13 or 17 years||Up to 5 years|
Over the years, our website, whatsthatbug.com has received hundreds of letters and some interesting images asking us about these insects. Scroll down to have a look at some of them.
Letter 1 – Cicada Nymph
What planet is this bug from?
Found on ground in Missouri.
Cicada nymphs live underground feeding off sap in roots. As they mature, they climb to the surface and molt into winged adults that produce buzzing sounds in trees. They are more often seen than heard. The red eyes have us wondering if this is a Periodical Cicada that could take 13 or 17 years to mature, making it the oldest living insect. No brood is due this year according to this site, so it might be an off-season individual. Perhaps Eric Eaton can assist. Here is what Eric Eaton added: “I think the cicada is probably of the 13-year variety (the nymph I mean), though both 13- and 17-year varieties may occur there. There are several online sites for periodical cicadas (Magiciada), some of which include maps of all the different broods, and I’d suggest consulting one of those.”
Letter 2 – Cicada Nymph
Hello, we moved up to Auburn, CA last year and you’ve been a big help in identifying a bunch of bugs we’ve never seen before (being city folk). What I keep seeing is carcases stuck to the house, and until today I never saw what came out of them. This morning I found this cool green bug crawling down the side of the house and thought I’d ask what it was. Don’t know if you can see in the picture but it has pinchers on its front two legs. Thanks for all the help.
Jeff and Leah
Hi Jeff and Leah,
This is a Cicada Nymph. It lives underground where it feeds on the sap from tree and shrub roots. When it is ready to metamorphose into a winged adult, it climbs to the surface, splits its skin and emerges as a winged adult. You find the shed exoskeletons from the final molt. Sorry, we cannot give you a species name.
Letter 3 – Cicada Nymph
This appeared in my garden today, I was turning over and weeding my vegetable beds so I think that perhaps it is an over-wintering larvae of some sort, strangest thing I have ever seen (and that is something for my garden)…. help, please?
We get many photos of adult Cicadas with wings, and many photos of the exoskeleton after the final molt when the nymphs dig their way to the surface, split their skins and fly away, but we rarely get photos of the underground dwelling Nymphs. Cicada Nymphs live underground feeding on the sap of roots, usually trees. Some stay underground as long as 17 years like the Periodical Cicada or 17 Year Locust. Thanks for sending in your wonderful image.
Letter 4 – Cicada Nymph
Insect found in front yard…
July 15, 2009
This approx. 1.75 in long, about as thick as my pinkie finger. Very slow to move, very strong legs (held onto a stick I transferred him on), and two large front claws. Six legs, no wings. Has a butt that looks like a honey bee! Heavy, solid bug. Covered in some type of protective coating of sap and dirt or something.
Northern California, residential, July 2009 Summer
Dear Intrigued Mommy,
After spending several years underground, this Cicada Nymph has dug its way to the surface. It will molt and become a winged adult.
Letter 5 – Cicada Metamorphosis in Mexico
Newly hatched insect
May 28, 2010
We live on the west coast of Mexico. This insect/larvae was protruding from the leg of a piece of wooden furniture on our patio late last night. It seemed to be hatching, and the “husk” it was hatching from had active legs. Its wings eventually dried and it flew away. It was about 2.5 inches long! THANKS!
12 km north of Puerto Vallarta, MX
Congratulations on your good fortune to witness the metamorphosis of a Cicada.
Oh Daniel, thanks for your quick response! It is such a beautiful creature, and its color was the freshest green I’ve ever seen. Quite a privilege to witness this – and to think that our dog almost ate it! That’s what drew our attention to it. We are about to enter our rainy season here, so the cicadas may play a role, right? Thanks again!
Hi again Karen,
Cicadas emerge during the summer months. Your dog probably knows a good meal. Cicadas are edible and they are high in nutritional value.
Letter 6 – Brood XIX Cicada Nymph
Is this Locust Pupa
Location: West Central Illinios
May 12, 2011 2:36 pm
I have some leaves composting in my front yard , Flipped the bag and these I think Locust Pupa ?? Not Sure??
Only insects with complete metamorphosis have a pupa, and Cicadas have an incomplete metamorphosis. The life cycle of a Cicada includes a period of time underground as a growing nymph. In the case of the Periodical Cicada, the period of time underground may reach 13 or 17 years, hence the common name 17 Year Locust. This is a Cicada Nymph, and it is likely about to transform into an adult, which is why it is on the surface. We just posted a photo of a Brown Thrasher feeding on a Cicada Nymph, though the angle of the prey in that photo made identification somewhat difficult. Your photo shows the immature Cicada quite nicely. Since your photo has come quite early in the year, and since Brood XIX is about to emerge in Illinois, we suspect this is an immature 13 Year Cicada from Brood XIX. Periodical Cicadas appear earlier in the year than Annual Cicadas which generally emerge in July and August.
Letter 7 – Cicada Nymph
Location: Green Bay, Wisconsin
May 28, 2011 9:40 pm
Hello! I was digging a garden, and about 8 inches underground I found this guy. He is about the size of a nickel (U.S.). I have been searching to try to figure out what he is, but no luck yet!! Thank you!!
Oh yeah, some more info on the bug that I found. He seems to lay on his back a lot. When we took him out, it seemed like he didn’t know how to walk. After about half an hour, he slowly started to walk backwards. He has underdeveloped wings, and his eyes have tiny, tiny black spots in them–like pupils (sometimes I feel like he’s looking at me). Right now he is laying on his back, using his legs to move around the jar. There was no other insects around the spot where I dug him up, or eggs or anything of the sort. He was just there all alone. I hope some of this helps!! Thank you again!!!
This is an immature Cicada. Cicada Nymphs live underground and feed off of fluids in plant roots. They are clumsy above ground. Upon nearing completion of their lengthy underground existence, they burrow to the surface and metamorphose into winged adults. We often get photos of the shed skins or exuvia, but we rarely get photos of living nymphs that have been unearthed.
Letter 8 – Cicada Nymph
Subject: Bug in New Orleans
Location: New Orleans
July 29, 2012 10:28 pm
Today I was skating in City Park in New Orleans and as I was leaving the park to go home I saw this little guy hanging out on the sidewalk. He was kind of waving his left front leg and rubbing it against his eye. I think he may have been hurt. His skin was kind of bloated-looking and seemed loose and papery.
My boyfriend said this insect looks like a stag beetle, but the ”horns” in this photo are actually the front legs. His face was kind of plain, with two big black eyes. This bug was fairly large-possibly over 2” in length, and maybe an inch across or a little over at his widest point.
Since the bug was not really moving, and seemed hurt or stuck (maybe trampled by a wayward jogger) I gently nudged him over to the grass with a small stick to avoid any further injury.
Can you tell me what sort of bug this is?
The quality of this photograph is quite poor, but this resembles a Cicada Nymph. Cicada Nymphs spend several years underground feeding on fluids in plant roots and then they dig their way to the surface to metamorphose into winged adults that are significant contributors to the summer symphony of insect noises. If this Cicada Nymph was injured, it will probably die before the metamorphosis process.
Thank you for the prompt reply! Sorry about the photo quality. The day was waning–I probably should have used the flash.
Now that you mention it, and after seeing the photos online, that bug was definitely a cicada nymph. I think I used to see a lot of them when I was younger but not for years and never up close.
Once again, thanks for getting back to me and appeasing my curiosity!
Letter 9 – Cicada Nymph
Subject: Unknown bug
July 31, 2012 6:42 pm
I saw this one crawling toward my son when we were having a picnic at the park. It was about an inch long and half inch wide. Can you tell me what it is, not sure I saw it in the directory.
This is a Cicada Nymph. They generally escape notice since they live underground for from several years to as long as 17 years in the case of the Periodical Cicada, AKA 17 Year Locust. While underground, they take nourishment from plant roots. When they have neared maturity, they dig to the surface, metamorphose into winged adults, and live for several more weeks as adult Cicadas. Most Cicadas in North America belong to the genus Tibicen, the Annual Cicadas, and one of the most common is the Dogday Harvestfly. Annual Cicadas are the sole prey of Cicada Killer Wasps, one of our most frequent summer identification request subjects.
Letter 10 – Cicada Molting
Subject: Annual Cicada in molt.
Location: Levittown pa
August 13, 2012 9:13 am
Noticed you have plenty of pictures of Cicadas post molt, I thought I’d add a few during molt. I have a bunch, but your website won’t cooperate with me.
Signature: Jen k
Cicadas are one of our Top 10 insect identification requests and submissions, whether they be adult Annual Cicadas, Periodical Cicadas, Australian Cicadas (which arrive during northern hemisphere winter), Metamorphosing Cicadas, Cicadas as prey to Cicada Killers, Cicada Nymphs or Cicada Exuviae. Adult Cicadas are often mistaken for extremely large flies by folks who don’t know much about insects. Thank you for your lovely submission.
Letter 11 – Cicada Nymph
Subject: green feet striped body
Location: Lafayette CA
May 18, 2014 9:41 pm
I saw this bug while sitting in a log ampitheatre. It is mostly oaks and some bays and toyon. In Lafayette, CA which is in the east bay area of northern california. No wings visible,
This is an immature Cicada, known as a nymph. Immature Cicadas spend their entire lives underground feeding from the roots of plants. Then when they are nearing maturity, they dig their way to the surface, molt one final time and emerge as winged adults. Many Cicadas spend several years as nymphs, and the record is held by the Periodical Cicada or 17 Year Locust which spends 17 years underground, often emerging in huge numbers on a cyclical basis. We will try to identify this species, though that might not be possible.
Thank you so much- this was from girl scout camp, so many will learn from this!!!
Letter 12 – Cicada Nymph
Subject: What is this
Location: South west pennsylvania
August 6, 2014 12:19 pm
I was digging in my backyard and dug up a bunch of these. What is it?
This is an immature Cicada, commonly called a nymph. Cicada nymphs spend several years underground feeding from the roots of trees and shrubs. When they are nearing maturity, they dig to the surface, molt for the last time leaving behind an exuvia or shed exoskeleton, and fly off as winged adult Cicadas. Perhaps you are familiar with the loud buzzing din produced by Cicadas from the tree tops in mid to late summer.
Letter 13 – Cicada Nymph
Subject: What is this bug?
August 7, 2017 5:49 pm
Can you please tell me what this bug is?
This Cicada Nymph has been living underground for several years, and now that it is approaching maturity, it has dug to the surface and it will molt for a final time, flying away as a winged adult Annual Cicada, sometimes called a Dog Day Harvestfly.
Letter 14 – Cicada Nymph
Subject: Possible alien life!
Geographic location of the bug: Northern California
Time: 01:45 PM EDT
Your letter to the bugman: What is this guy?! He looks like a cicada had a baby with a crab and possibly has a flea as an uncle. He’s very friendly and quite pretty underneath, with a dark green colour around his underside and claws/pinchers.
How you want your letter signed: Rayne
You are very perceptive to have recognized the similarities between an adult Cicada and this immature nymph. Cicada nymphs live underground where they feed by sucking fluids from the roots of plants and their front legs are powerful digging appendages.
Letter 15 – Cicada Nymph
Subject: In my garden
Geographic location of the bug: Minneapolis, Minnesota
Time: 07:10 PM EDT
Your letter to the bugman: This guy might be common, but I know next to nothing about it – can you help identify what this is? He rolled over in the second picture.
How you want your letter signed: B
This is an immature Cicada nymph. Cicada nymphs live underground for several years feeding from plant roots, after which they burrow to the surface and molt for the final time, emerging as winged adult Cicadas. The shed skin left behind is known as an exuvia.
Letter 16 – Cicada Nymph
Subject: Unknown insect
Geographic location of the bug: Big Cottonwood Canyon, Utah
Time: 12:31 PM EDT
Your letter to the bugman: Found while doing trail work. Seemed to be secreting a substance out of its back while being handled.
How you want your letter signed: Thank-you! Ryan
This is a Cicada nymph and you did not indicate if it was dug up while doing trail work or if it was found on the surface. It appears there is a crack in its exoskeleton, an injury that might have occurred if it was dug up. The substance may have been its vital fluids “bleeding” from the injury. We suspect this is a mortal injury. Cicada nymphs live for several years underground feeding from plant roots, but as they near maturity, they dig to the surface, molt for the last time and emerge as winged adult Cicadas.
Letter 17 – Cicada Nymph
Subject: Flourescent green bug
Geographic location of the bug: Central California
Time: 12:18 AM EDT
Your letter to the bugman: Found this little gem about 1 ft deep. Looks like some kind of crustacean.
How you want your letter signed: Jwh
This is a Cicada nymph, and we have identified similar looking Cicada nymphs from the west coast in the past as being members of the genus Platypedia.
Letter 18 – Cicada Nymph
Subject: What is this?
Geographic location of the bug: Lucedale, MS
Time: 11:44 AM EDT
Your letter to the bugman: I have found 3 of this insect in my backyard. 2 were dead and last one was alive. Then, I found 3 holes in the ground possibly the same size as the insect. My dog started digging and sniffing at the holes and then ran as if it something scared him.
How you want your letter signed: Trimica
This is a Cicada nymph and it has been living underground for several years, so the holes you found might be associated with it.