Cicadas – Summer Sounds

Sometime in July of every year, once we are passed the 4th and the fireworks, summers get noisy again.  The Annual Cicadas bring on their amorous and cacophonous noisemaking.  Amorous?  Yes!  The noise being made comes strictly from the male cicada as their mating call. 

Let me clarify several things about these often-misunderstood insects.  First, they are often misidentified or mislabeled as Locusts.  They are not!  However, grasshoppers are a type of locust, or locust are a type of short-winged grasshopper. The kinds of cicadas we experience in the Houston area are called Annual Cicadas because they are a species that comes back year after year depending on their egg-laying cycles. 

Sadly, local news media have copied and pasted stories about the resurgence of a variety known as Brood IX, which come out only once every 17 years and do so in massive numbers.  We’re talking millions and millions in states from West Virginia to the Carolinas this summer. But much like the story about the “Murder Hornet”, and thanks to the news media’s lust for salacious headlines, this is what I’ve seen linked on several news outlets in Houston since May.  However, when you do read the whole story, you’ll know these aren’t the cicadas we will experience this summer. 

“After 17 Years Underground, Cicadas Stage a 2020 Southern Invasion”

“They’re Back: Millions of Cicadas Expected to Emerge This Year”

Even if you do experience an uber-loud abundance of this critter, pesticides are seldom called for, because this bug simply doesn’t do damage to trees or crops along the Gulf Coast.  In fact, you would have to know exactly where the mama cicada was laying her eggs to get control.  Coincidentally, in the eastern part of the United States, in states that see the once-every-17-year-onslaught, there is a need to protect fruit trees and grapevines from this Brood IX Cicada.   Here in Houston, I say ignore the sensational headlines and write off the noise to “the sounds of summer.”

As fun side bar, we also experience Cicada Killers here in Houston.  Sadly enough, when the stories emerged about “Murder Hornets” this past spring – or when the mainstream media got bored with Covid-19 news – many people grabbed pictures of Cicada Killers and did stories on the possibility of Murder Hornets.  Let me blunt and remind everyone, we don’t have Murder Hornets in Texas.  And while I’m not an entomologist by trade, I do play one on the radio from time to time… wink, wink!  And that’s why, in my entomological opinion, thanks to our heat we won’t ever experience the supposed Asian Murder Hornet.   

Cicadas Killers dig their holes (an entrance and an exit) in the middle of lawns or in shallow culverts and then they get busy killing cicadas and taking them to their tunnels to feed upon.  They rarely ever sting humans.  And you can get very close to them while they’re dragging one of those cicadas to lunch on, and you can get some very cool looking photos without fear that they will ever attack you.

So, in summation, you don’t have to treat for either of these insects.  Rather enjoy them as part of our typical southeast Texas summers.   And we won’t experience the 17-year ravage from the Brood IX Cicada, nor will we need to worry about Murder Hornets.

If you're just interested in the phenomenon of the 17-Year Cicada Brood Cycle, here's my information on the 2020 hatch:

Parts of the South are about to get noisy. Not from Memorial Day weekend parties or concerts or parades — but millions and millions of amorous insects. Every 17 years, cicadas emerge from the ground in Southwest Virginia, parts of North Carolina, and West Virginia. The cluster of cacophonous cicadas in this area of the American South is known as brood IX.   Soon, scientists from Virginia Tech say, the little creatures will crawl towards the sky, with as many as 1.5 million per acre. The number of insects traditionally start peaking in early June, according to Virginia Tech and Virginia State University, and most will be gone by July.  “Communities and farms with large numbers of cicadas emerging at once may have a substantial noise issue,” Eric Day, an entomologist in Virginia Tech’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences said in statement. “Hopefully, any annoyance at the disturbance is tempered by just how infrequent — and amazing — this event is.”  That noise, the college says, is “the mating call of the males who are attempting to attract females.”  But the love call is also a warning sign for tree growers, as cicadas pose danger to orchards, and juvenile trees and vines. The bugs implant their eggs into branches or vines, causing them to spilt and wither. If too many cicadas lay eggs in a small tree, it can kill the plant, Virginia Tech scientists say. Recommended 

“Cicadas can occur in overwhelming numbers and growers in predicted areas of activity should be watchful,” Doug Pfeiffer, a professor at Virginia Tech’s Department of Entomology said in a statement. 

Much remains unknown about the creature, like why the periodical cicadas emerge on 13- or 17-year cycles. Theories suggest it could be to avoid predators. Pfeiffer thinks those unaffected should enjoy marveling at the “fascinating” and puzzling bugs.  “If you don’t have fruit trees or grapevines to protect, you can enjoy this phenomenon while it lasts.”