Buzz has it: No cicadas in Valley

Posted: April 4, 2013

The Winchester Star

In this 2012 photo, cicadas occupy the leaves of a bush near Spottswood. They are expected to make an appearance in the area this year, but it will be east of the Blue Ridge Mountains. (Photo by Mike TrippAssociated Press)

WINCHESTER — If you are one of those people who yearns for the sound of the trilling hum of 17-year cicadas searching for mates among the trees, you’ll need to head over the Blue Ridge Mountains to Loudoun County next month.

Despite all the buzz about the insects making one of their periodic appearances, the Valley isn’t the place to be.

“We’re not going to be affected by them,” said Chris Bergh, entomologist with the Alson H. Smith Jr. Agricultural Research and Extension Center in Frederick County.

The cicadas return above ground either every 13 or 17 years, depending on which “brood” is under discussion. There are 15 different broods that turn up in different parts of the eastern United States.

There are also “annual” cicadas, which are around every year, but not in the vast numbers that broods can produce.

The Frederick County area is home to the cicadas of Brood IX, Bergh said, which is not due to return until 2020.

This year marks the return of Brood II, also called the East Coast Brood.

Bergh said they will be found in Loudoun County and points south in Central Virginia, as far as the Southside but not southwest Virginia.

They emerge from the ground once the soil temperature reaches 64 degrees about eight inches deep. That usually occurs about mid-May in this part of the Valley, Bergh said.

The black insects, with their red eyes and orange-veined wings may look a little scary, but they pose no threat to humans. They don’t sting or bite. In fact, lots of other creatures find them good to eat — including some humans.

They are feared by agriculturalists, however, because of the damage they can do to trees.

Adult cicadas “don’t feed at all,” Bergh explained. The nymph stage, which lives for years underground, can feed on plant roots, but adults are only interested in finding a mate in the two to four weeks they survive.

Female cicadas look for tree limbs, where they cut slits in the outer layer and deposit their eggs.

“Those slits can weaken tree branches,” Bergh said, and cause them to break, even several years after the cuts are inflicted.

This is a special concern for orchardists, Bergh said.

As fruit develops on the branches, the weight can become too much for the damaged twigs to hold. According to Bergh, it can take two or three years for a tree to heal.

Young trees are more at risk than older ones, he added.

Most orchardists won’t put out new seedlings near the time of a cicada brood emergence for just that reason, he added.

The slim, pencil-sized branches are just the kind of wood a female cicada is seeking.

Insecticides can protect fruit trees from this type of damage, he added.

Cicadas make their presence known by the noise they make, which can be extremely loud, when enough of the insects collect in one place.

So, for the next few years, enjoy the sounds of silence here in the Valley.

— Contact Val Van Meter at vvanmeter@winchesterstar.com