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Looming cicada invasion a ‘natural wonder,’ naturalist says

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(The Center Square) – Expect to see a lot of noisy, two-inch flying cicadas in Illinois this May. But don’t worry.

“It’s not going to be cicada-geddon,” naturalist Katie Dana with the Illinois Natural History Survey said.

In 2011, the last time a brood of long-sleeping cicadas dug themselves up from underground, Illinois survived “just fine,” she said. The resulting piles of discarded wings and ectoskeletons didn’t hurt anybody. Lots of kids, teachers and bug lovers remember the 2011 cicada emergence fondly, she said.

“Honestly, this is a natural wonder of the world,” Dana said. “Why not embrace it?”

The 2024 cicada awakening will be one for the record books. For the first time in more than 200 years, two different broods of cicadas will be emerging in Illinois at the same time. In Northern Illinois, the 17-year cicadas will appear. In Southern Illinois, the 13-year cicadas will emerge. Billions of bugs will be chirping and flying all over the state.

Don’t mistake cicadas for locusts, the University of Illinois warned. Locusts are a kind of grasshopper with a ravenous appetite for crops. Cicadas just want to land on your trees, shed their ecto-skeletons and find a mate.

Cicadas don’t bite, Dana said.

“They might mistake you for a tree and land on you,” she said. She likened that sensation to being hit with a piece of Velcro.

Cicadas won’t eat your plants with one exception. They might bother young fruit trees.

“I’m telling people not to plant young fruit trees this year because they may get a lot of stress from the cicadas,” she said.

Older trees can handle them, she said.

People who are concerned about their plants can put some netting on them to protect them for a few weeks, Dana said. The cicadas will die off before the Fourth of July.

People who are afraid of bugs don’t have much recourse but to stay out of the cicada’s way for a few weeks, Dana said. Spraying won’t work.

“If you do spray them, you are not going to see any difference,” Dana said. “Cicadas will be coming in from the neighbors’ yards … down the street. They are going to be everywhere.”

Even if a person treats their lawn with insecticides, they won’t see the effects until 17 years in the future when the next brood is set to emerge.

Spraying will kill birds and other critters that feed on the juicy cicadas. Unwary dogs who eat a sprayed cicada can become sick, she said.

On the plus side, think of cicadas as natural aerators for the lawn, Dana said. When cicadas dig their way out of hibernation, they create zillions of tiny holes in the ground. When they die and decompose, they turn into natural fertilizer.

“Research has shown that in years following an emergence, there is an increase in woody mass in plants. So that’s a good thing,” Dana said.

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