Insect of the Week: Periodical Cicadas

Adapted from page 406-407 of Garden Insects of North America:

Periodical cicadas can typically be found in a wide variety of deciduous trees and shrubs through much of the northeastern quadrant of the U.S. They cause injuries to their plant hosts when females lay a series of small batches of eggs, inserting them into twigs. Small branches can be girdled and killed shortly after egg insertion. The damage also predisposes the branches to breakage and allows entry of pathogens. Surviving branches can display wounds for years. Adults feed on fluids extracted from twigs, and the nymphs similarly feed on roots, but these feeding injuries are considered minor.

Periodical cicadas have unique life cycles that involve synchronized adult emergence at consistent intervals (17 years for northern broods, 13 years for southern broods). Emergence of the various periodical cicadas is staggered at the various places where they occur, which are referred to as “broods.” Emergence events can be spectacular— and noisy—often attracting considerable attention and sometimes concern. Because of their large numbers during such events, early European settlers likened then to Biblical locusts; as a result they are sometimes still incorrectly referred to as “17-year locusts.” (The term locust is properly applied to certain grasshoppers that may periodically mass and migrate).

A periodical cicada ovipositing in a twig. Photo credit: David Shetlar

Adults are 1.25 to 1.75 inches, generally dark, and may have some banding. Their eyes are conspicuously red, and the wings are nearly transparent with orange veins. Immature stages live on the roots of trees and shrubs, growing slowly. In the seventeenth year of their life they emerge from the soil, typically in late May and early June in the north, earlier in the south. They climb trees, buildings, and other upright surfaces. The nymphal skin is then shed, and adults shortly thereafter move to the trees.

Head to our Instagram to see the damage that periodical cicadas can do to twigs.

Garden Insects of North America: The Ultimate Guide to Backyard Bugs
Second Edition
By Whitney Cranshaw & David Shetlar

This second edition of Garden Insects of North America solidifies its place as the most comprehensive guide to the common insects, mites, and other “bugs” found in the backyards and gardens of the United States and Canada. Featuring 3,300 full-color photos and concise, detailed text, this fully revised book covers the hundreds of species of insects and mites associated with fruits and vegetables, shade trees and shrubs, flowers and ornamental plants, and turfgrass—from aphids and bumble bees to leafhoppers and mealybugs to woollybears and yellowjacket wasps—and much more. This new edition also provides a greatly expanded treatment of common pollinators and flower visitors, the natural enemies of garden pests, and the earthworms, insects, and other arthropods that help with decomposing plant matter in the garden.

Designed to help you easily identify what you find in the garden, the book is organized by where insects are most likely to be seen—on leaves, shoots, flowers, roots, or soil. Photos are included throughout the book, next to detailed descriptions of the insects and their associated plants.

An indispensable guide to the natural microcosm in our backyards, Garden Insects of North America continues to be the definitive resource for amateur gardeners, insect lovers, and professional entomologists.

  • Revised and expanded edition covers most of the insects, mites, and other “bugs” one may find in yards or gardens in the United States and Canada—all in one handy volume
  • Features more than 3,300 full-color photos, more than twice the illustrations of the first edition
  • Concise, informative text organized to help you easily identify insects and the plant injuries that they may cause
This post is part of a series, explore additional posts here<< Plants That Kill: White SnakerootInsect of the Week: Locust Borer >>