Periodical Cicadas emerge in our region only every 17 years. This cool survival strategy uses the long period between emergences and number of years being a prime number to ensure that no predator can synchronize with their emergence. While opportunists like crows and raccoons will feast on them, the cicada emergence will catch them by surprise. Guess what, it almost caught us by surprise, too!
Adult 17-year periodical cicadas
Opportunistic predators of the cicadas are not doing anything to get ready for their emergence in Mid-May, but we are. So, how does Cleveland Metroparks get ready for a few million big clumsy, noisy bugs that we saw last in 1999? That’s what I thought I’d share with you today. We’re trying to discover where there were significant populations of periodical cicadas. Online resources indicate that they were found in Cuyahoga County but give very little specific information. So, we’re scouring our records, questioning employees that were here in 1999 (I’m one of them), and even tracking down retirees who remember specifics about where and how many cicadas were in Cleveland Metroparks. What do we know? The emergence was more notable around the southern and eastern boundaries of the county than in the north. Brecksville, Mill Stream Run, South Chagrin, Hinckley and Bedford Reservations are remembered as having the highest numbers.
17-year periodical cicadas after just emerging from the earth. Nymph stage.
It’s time for us to brush up on our knowledge of this super cool insect. While we encounter and talk about annual cicadas every year, this is a specialized species with specialized ecology to understand. So we’re reading up, sharing information and stories, collaborating with other departments and even other agencies. We will be fluent in 17-year cicadas when the time comes.
Models of 17-year cicadas perched on the side of my desk, just waiting to get in the hands of naturalists interpreting these cool bugs.
We’re figuring out all the fun ways to share our love and fascination with cicadas with you. Planning programs in May and June, a special event for June 4 (Cicada Invasion! in South Chagrin Reservation), writing blogs – several over the next few months, using social media, and even building a custom cicada costume to make appearances as our cicada ambassador. And lastly, our Natural Resources and Planning departments are setting up to do some real science during the periodical cicada emergence. We’ll be ready to map the size and locations of cicada populations and to use that data to gauge land use changes and help guide conservation efforts.
So, what can you do to get ready?
- Join in our excitement and curiosity.
- Stay tuned to Notes from the Field, as cicadas will be a hot topic for us through early summer. Look for cicada program opportunities and put them on your calendar.
- If you plan on doing any new tree planting this year, you may want to either wait until after June or make plans to protect your young trees. The cicadas won’t do any lasting damage to older trees, but can impact the health of very young trees.
- Don’t make plans to kill them. They’re coming and they’re harmless. If you’re in a hot-spot, there will be more of them than you can keep away. It’ll be okay.
- If you startle easily, you can plan on mowing your lawn late in the evening or early in the morning. During most of the day, they’ll be active and they may be attracted to the noise of the mower.
That’s it. Cleveland Metroparks is getting ready. You can be ready. I expect the cicadas will be ready and emerge from the ground in mid-May. It’ll just be the rest of nature that is left to be caught off-guard...
Brecksville Nature Center Manager, Sharon Hosko, enjoying the 1999 cicada emergence.