Originally created 03/31/04

Cicada invasion is ready to begin



Thousands of visitors will invade the Augusta area soon, but the influx has nothing to do with the Masters Tournament.

In about six weeks, the largest group of cicadas in 17 years will pop up in portions of 15 states, including Georgia, and there is little residents can do to brace for the flying, noisy insects, experts said.

"There's really nothing you can do about them," said Jim Soper, the manager of area pest control company ADC Nuisance Wildlife Management, explaining that it is useless to spray them.

"They're just sort of here, and then they're gone."

Unlike the more frequently spotted annual cicadas that emerge from under the ground at various times once a year, the impending swarm of periodical cicadas surfaces at exactly the same time in much larger numbers - in some locations as high as millions per acre.

In the case of the upcoming "Brood X," the cicadas have been underground for their entire lives and will soon come out of the ground to live in and feed on hardwood trees. Then they will lay eggs, which will fall to the ground to restart the cycle, before dying in four to five weeks.

Why wait 17 years - or for the 13-year cicadas, 13 years - and how do the cicadas know that amount of time has passed?

University of Georgia entomologist Paul Guillebeau said no one really knows beyond suspecting that the insects must possess some type of internal clock.

Dr. Guillebeau also said it's uncertain exactly what day this crop of 17-year cicadas will become noticeable, but one thing's for sure: When they do, these red- eyed creatures will be hard to miss.

"The biggest effect will be that so many people will be noticing them, while most of the time people don't even pay attention to the insect populations," he said. "We'll get a lot of calls ... mostly people asking why there are so many of them around."

As for the trees the cicadas feed on, Dr. Guillebeau said small, young trees could face a small amount of damage, but nothing too drastic.

Henry Frischknecht, an arborist and the owner of the Empire Tree and Turf Co. in Augusta, agreed, saying he expects his company to be barely affected, if at all.

"They do do a little damage, but it's not lethal," he said. "And the trees recover very quickly. I'm not aware of any long-term effects."

Periodical cicadas were last spotted in Georgia in 2000 with the emergence of Brood 6 cicadas.

Brood X, though, is the largest brood by far, so residents will hear the roar of significantly more cicadas this time around, Dr. Guillebeau said.

CICADA FACTS

A male cicada makes a buzzing, roaring sound for its mating call. Cicadas, though annoying, are harmless and often confused with locusts. Cicadas won't bite, sting or cause any more than minor damage to small trees and bushes while feeding on them.

Life Cycle

Eggs - for 6 to 8 weeks, until they hatch

Nymphs - as juveniles they drop from the trees to live underground, sucking root fluids for food

Teneral adults - after 13 or 17 years, they emerge from underground and spend four to six days waiting for their bodies to fully harden

Adults - males produce their mating calls, or calling songs; after they mate with the females, the females produce eggs and the cycle begins again

Reach Dena Levitz at (706) 823-3339 or dena.levitz@augustachronicle.com.