Cicadas emerge for first time in 17 years

By Sydney Scepkowski

With their deafening chorus that can drown out the air traffic of CVG airport, the cicadas of Brood X are sure to create the buzz of the summer any day now in southwest Ohio. 

“Cassini cicadas commonly found in southwest Ohio sound like a series of clicks and buzzes, but together in the tree they all sound like ‘shhhhhh.’ Parts of western Cincinnati I’ve measured (cicada songs) at 96 decibels. Jets that fly into CVG are around 80,” Gene Kritsky,  internationally renowned cicada expert, said. 

Kristky is the dean of Behavioral and Natural Sciences and a professor in the Department of Biology at Mount St. Joseph University in Cincinnati. In addition to being a prolific author of entomological research, Kristky is also creator of the new Cicada Safari app.

Gene Kritsky, a former Oxford resident now dean of Behavioral and Natural Sciences and a professor in the Department of Biology at Mount St. Joseph University in Cincinnati, is an internationally recognized expert on the cicadas. Photo provided by Gene Kritsky 

According to Kritsky, male cicadas are the ones making all the noise. Cicada Safari maps the 2021 emergence of the periodical cicada, classified as Brood X. App users can upload photos of cicadas they find and submit them for verification. The photos are then immediately published to the Cicada Safari map. Cicada Safari is available on Apple’s App Store or Google. 

Through Cicada Safari data, Kristky tracked some of the nation’s earliest cicada hotspots in Georgia and Washington D.C. To date, seven cicadas sightings in Oxford were recorded through Cicada Safari. Soon they will be all around us in the millions.

“We’re gonna see good numbers along the southern half of Indiana and southwest Ohio,” said Kritsky, a former Oxford resident. 

The cicadas of Brood X were last seen in Oxford in 2004. 

“Female cicadas laid their eggs at the ends of tree branches 17 years ago. When the eggs hatch, the nymphs crawl out of the egg nest and drop straight down. They immediately go underground because ants, spiders and beetles are searching for them,” Kritsky said.

Insects that hunt cicadas are then consumed by larger animals.

“Cicadas are a food pulse for raccoons, squirrels, rodents and all sorts of birds. It allows some populations to have increased reproduction potential,” Kritsy said.

Cicadas do not bite, sting or spread disease, but they do benefit both flora and fauna. 

“They emerge from holes that are about the size of your pinky. Those holes serve like a natural aeration for the soil. They persist for several weeks so that we have a hot dry summer with cloud bursts. Instead of all the water flowing off the top of hard soil it actually goes down into those holes and waters the trees,” Kritsky said.

The female cicadas can damage young trees because they lay their eggs in the tips of tender young branches. Older trees that are well established generally have no problems. Younger trees can be protected by wrapping them in gauzy cheese cloth to keep the cicadas off.

Cody Powell, associate vice president for facilities, planning and operations at Miami University, said the school is taking precaution against the pending brood by installing netting around air ducts and filters where the cicadas may congregate.

“The cicadas seem to be attracted to the fan noise, potentially moist environment, and perhaps temperature associated with our cooling towers, ventilation systems, and other such mechanical equipment,” Powell said.

Yoshi Tomoyasu, associate professor of biology at Miami, says humans should embrace the uniqueness of the cicadas. Photo by Miami University

Yoshi Tomoyasu, associate professor of biology at Miami, said humans should embrace the cicadas for their unique and unusual life cycles.

“What’s fascinating about periodical cicadas is that their life cycle is in complete synchronization,” Tomoyasu wrote in a press release from Miami. “This means that all of them — trillions of them — hatch within the same month, all spend 17 years underground, and all come out at the same time, within a period of a few weeks.” 

That synchronization may have been prompted by the Ice Age, in which the only members of the species to survive were those who could find a warmer environment underground. The survivors were then able to find mates when they emerged. But why only cicadas might have developed such a synchronization remains a mystery, Tomoyasu said. 

Kritsky said he believes the cicada emergence may even bring good luck for local sports teams.

“During cicada emergence years, the Cincinnati Reds have won two pennants. We’re expecting big things for the Reds because the cicadas are here,” said Kritsky, whose new book, “The Periodical Cicadas: The Brood X Edition,” is now available.