May 9, 2011

Soon, many Western Kentuckians will begin hearing the deafening sounds of periodical cicadas as Brood XIX is scheduled to reemerge this month.

The sap-feeding insects have black bodies, red eyes and red-orange veins running through clear wings, said Lee Townsend, extension entomologist in the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture.

Once they emerge, they tend to stay in the upper canopy of trees. The loud buzzing or humming sound is the males singing to attract females.

Brood XIX reemerges every 13 years in Western Kentucky, roughly west of the William H. Natcher Parkway. This brood returns sooner than 17-year cicadas, which many Kentuckians are familiar with as their emergence covers a much larger portion of the state.

Once Brood XIX emerges, it will be active for approximately 1.5 months.

The cicadas are potential pests of woody plants in orchards, nurseries, vineyards and home and commercial landscapes. Damage occurs when the females slit twigs during egg laying. The twigs break, dangle, turn brown and die. Usually older, established trees are not seriously harmed. Most branches will recover the following year, but the insects do pose a threat to young trees.

“If you are getting ready to put out woody plants, it would be best to wait until the cicadas’ flight is over to do so,” Townsend said.

Some people may be apprehensive about interacting with periodical cicadas, but they cannot sting and aren’t harmful to humans or livestock. They pose no threat to pets other than some dogs and cats may get an upset stomach if they eat too many.

Townsend’s Web page, http://pest.ca.uky.edu/EXT/Cicada/kycic2011.html, provides additional information and tracks the cicadas’ emergence. Individuals can report first sightings and send pictures to lee.townsend@uky.edu.

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