Don’t call 911 for those noisy cicadas, Georgia county pleads

Caption
What to know about 17-year cicadas.As their name implies, these periodical cicadas emerge every 17-years.In the years before their emergence, they survive on tree sap under the soil.Active periodical cicada broods aren't widespread in Georgia. They only emerge in the northern counties.Cicadas are known for their loud buzzing calls

A North Georgia county is pleading for its residents to stop calling 911 for the loud, Brood X cicadas.

On their Facebook page, Union County’s Fire and Rescue folks reminded readers that Brood X cicadas emerge “every 17 years and is endemic in most of the eastern United States.

“They also have a range of different sounds they can produce, making them some of the loudest of all insects,” the posting reads. “It is often difficult to pinpoint where the sound is coming from and can sound like a vehicle or home alarm system.”

The cicadas of Brood X (the X is the Roman numeral for 10) have been emerging in about 15 states from Indiana to Georgia to New York; they’re coming out now in mass numbers in Tennessee and North Carolina.

The cicadas are coming out mostly at dusk to try to avoid everything that wants to eat them, climbing up trees or anything vertical. Once off the ground, they shed their skins and try to survive that vulnerable stage before they become dinner to a host of critters including ants, birds, dogs and cats.

America is the only place in the world that has periodic cicadas that stay underground for either 13 or 17 years, said entomologist John Cooley of the University of Connecticut.

The bugs only emerge in large numbers when the ground temperature reaches 64 degrees. That’s happening earlier in the calendar in recent years because of climate change, said entomologist Gene Kritsky. Before 1950, they used to emerge at the end of May; now they’re coming out weeks earlier.

Though there have been some early bugs in Maryland and Ohio, soil temperatures have been in the low 60s.

When they emerge, it gets noisy — 105 decibels noisy, like “a singles bar gone horribly, horribly wrong,” Cooley said. There are three distinct cicada species, and each has its own mating song.

They aren’t locusts, and the only plants they damage are young trees, which can be netted. The year after a big batch of cicadas, trees actually do better because dead bugs serve as fertilizer, Kritsky said.

People tend to be scared of the wrong insects, says University of Illinois entomologist May Berenbaum. The mosquito kills more people than any other animals because of malaria and other diseases. Yet some people really dread the cicada emergence, she said.

“It is often difficult to pinpoint where the sound is coming from and can sound like a vehicle or home alarm system,” Union County said in its posting. “They feed on sap and do not have a major impact on agriculture but may overwhelm small plants. They cannot sting or bite but may mistake you for a tree branch.

“So, if you think you hear an alarm ensure that it is an alarm and determine the location before contacting authorities.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

About the Author

ajc.com

Editors' Picks