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LOUD - periodical cicadas emerging in Henry County

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By Erin Melwing

News Intern

“When I stand in the driveway, I hear a loud, continuous, high-pitched chirping noise,” Reverend Michael Duncan, of Eminence Baptist Church, said. “It reminds me of folks that talk about ringing in their ears — multiplied by 100 times.”

The shrill is actually what has Henry County residents abuzz.

It’s the sound of cicadas, and lots of them.

There are both annual and periodical cicadas.

The cicadas plaguing the county right now are periodical that peak between the months of April and June. Annual cicadas appear between July and September.

There are various other ways to determine if a bug is indeed a periodical cicada.

Periodical cicadas are black and typically 1.5” in size with red eyes, clear wings with orange veins and orange legs, according to an informational bulletin distributed through the University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service.

These cicadas emerge at predictable 13 or 17-year intervals - hence the name periodical cicadas. These emergences are known as broods. The 2008 periodical cicadas belong to the statewide Brood XIV which is on a 17-year cycle.

“The first time I saw them in my yard was this past weekend,” Duncan said. “I had seen them earlier over on I-71 and they were just horrendous over there at the rest stop going toward Louisville. When I came home, I didn’t see or hear anything. I think it was Friday, I looked and saw several of them on the driveway and I remembered what I had saw at the rest stop. I went to the big tree at the end of our drive and it was covered.”

The last Brood XIV emergence was on May 4, 1991, 10 days earlier than this year’s brood. Researchists and entomologists are unsure why these random emergence dates occur. There are nine known broods to affect the state of Kentucky, according to the UK Cooperative Extension Service.

Some of the broods are found in a single county such as Brood VI scheduled for 2017 in Letcher County, while others are statewide.

“I was out mowing yesterday and it looked like thousands of them piled up at the base of a tree,” Larry Ramsey, Lake Jericho general manager, said.

Emerging between late April and early June, cicadas burrow to the soil surface and shed their last nymphal skin. These nymphal skins are the empty brown skins seen clinging to trees and other assorted objects. Cicadas then begin to mate after expanding and drying post-nymphal skin. Eggs hatch in six to eight weeks and the new nymphs then fall to the ground and burrow down to the root system where they stay for the next 13 or 17 years, according to the UK Cooperative Extension Service.

Cicadas are harmless to humans and animals, but can seriously damage plants in two ways, according to the bulletin. Female cicadas primarily injure plants as they lay eggs in small branches. Female cicadas slit the bark and lay their eggs inside the wounds which can lead to these small twigs breaking on trees or shrubs. Broken branches deform the tree and can even result in possible plant death in younger plants, Lee Townsend, an extension entomologist at UK, said. Secondly, nymphs feeding belowground on tree roots can cause long-term damage. However, the main thing homeowners want to protect from periodical cicadas are small and/or new trees from the females as they lay eggs, Townsend said.

“The best way to try to protect young or small trees is to cover the small tree with something like cheesecloth or a very lightweight cloth,” Townsend said. “You would need to leave it on for probably the next couple weeks or so as long as you’re seeing cicadas active in your area.”

It also is recommended that the cheesecloth be secured around the bottom of the trunk to prevent the insects from crawling up the trunk of the tree and defeating the purpose of covering it. Besides covering, plants can also be protected via spraying and pruning. Insecticides can be used to reduce damage, according to the UK bulletin. Products available to homeowners include Lawn and Garden Insect Killer and Ortho Bug B Gone Spray. Several applications may be needed. Homeowners can also prune out egg-laying wounds before eggs hatch.

Male cicadas are actually the loudest insect in that they can be heard up to even a quarter of a mile away, according to UK Entomology research. Cicadas usually call to find females, but also sound if a cicada feels endangered.

“While I was mowing, I was sure something had happened to my mower,” Ramsey said. “I heard a loud whistling so I stopped my mower and it turned out to be the cicadas. I could hear them over the noise of my mower.”

Everyone seems to be complaining about the cicadas, but some people are complaining about locusts as well. It turns out that locusts and cicadas are the same thing ... but not really.

“It’s just a difference in name. ‘Locust’ is really a name for a grasshopper. Apparently when the colonists first came to America, they were confronted with the massive emergence of cicadas,” Townsend said. “They had never seen them before and all they could think of was the locust plagues of the Bible. They started calling them locusts and the name just kind of stuck.”

Cicadas or locusts, locusts or cicadas — Henry County residents are clearly annoyed, yet there are two bright sides to the current bug situation in the county. They will go away pretty quickly, Steve Moore, Henry County UK Extension Agent, said. Cicadas also serve as buzzworthy fishing bait, according to Ramsey. And there is a delicious use for cicadas as well. Cicadas are the main ingredient in more than 50 recipes found online. Chocolate covered cicadas, anyone?

E-mail us about this article at editor@hclocal.com.