While many around the region are girding for the return of the 17-year cicada — sometimes mistakenly called locusts, as if the bugs are monsters from 1950s science fiction set to take over the world — Frederick County might miss out on the worst of the invasion.
This crop of cicadas is known as Brood II, and last made an appearance in the region in 1996, according to information on the University of Maryland’s Entomology Department website, entomology.umd.edu.
The bugs are about two inches long and have bright red eyes and large wings. They live underground for their 17-year life cycle. They emerge at the end of their lives for about six weeks to shed their skins, mate and lay their eggs, which will feed on tree roots until they emerge again in 2030.
While above ground, male cicadas make noise to attract females, creating a distinct humming, buzzing sound.
Susan Trice, the horticulture educator and master gardener coordinator for the University of Maryland Extension Office, Frederick County, said the information she’s seen on sites such as www.cicadas.info, run by cicada researcher John Zyla, lead her to believe Frederick will miss the bugs. That site says Frederick is due for the next major invasion in 2021, when Brood X emerges.
Mike Raupp, a University of Maryland entomology professor, wrote on his “Bug of the Week” blog on the school’s website about the cicadas on Monday. In that blog post, he said cicadas have begun to emerge in North Carolina, but not in Maryland, and probably won’t arrive for several weeks. He also said the bugs might not emerge beyond southern Maryland counties such as St. Mary’s County, and might not reach western areas of the state, like Frederick County.
“I fear that D.C., Montgomery, and Prince George’s are out of luck this time for enjoying cicadas in the back yard, but who knows, maybe the cicadas will deliver us a surprise,” he wrote in the blog post.
The bugs are harmless to humans and pets, but can damage smaller tree limbs when the females lay eggs, according to the University of Maryland’s website. The females use a razor-like appendage to carve slits in tree limbs, and favor limbs about the size of a pencil.
Eggs are deposited in the slits, where they grow before dropping into the ground to live subterranean lives, the site says.
Despite the possibility of tree damage, at least one Frederick farmer seems nonplussed. Bob Black, owner of Thurmont’s Catoctin Mountain Orchard, which grows berries, apples and other fruits, said he wasn’t too concerned with the bug’s arrival. He said limb damage is usually rare, and usually doesn’t devastate trees.
“Occasionally, you might see that — it’s not total devastation,” Black said. “Young trees are more vulnerable. You certainly want all your limbs there. We just try to do a couple of timely sprays. Usually, we’ve been OK.”
He said the bugs would be controlled by applying extra pesticide.
“It’s just one of those things and you might have to put one or two extra sprays on, maybe,” he said. “That’s what we’ve done in the past. I’m 61 now, so I’ve been through a few cicada seasons.”
Black said he hoped for dry weather as the ground temperature rose and the bugs emerged.
“As much as we need rain, you hope you have a dry season when they’re getting ready to emerge,” he said. “If it’s dry, they can’t hardly get out of the ground ... It would be nice that if the cicadas are trying to get out, if we could get some dry weather and maybe not all of them can even get out of the ground.”
He said the farm would pay extra attention to young trees to help prevent damage as much as possible, but he was more concerned about other pests.
“It’s just part of another daily routine that we get into,” he said. “That’s just a seasonal thing. I’m glad its not every year, but stink bugs still outweigh what cicadas will do.”