Monday, Oct 22, 2018
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Cicadas' return signals a shrill summer season


They'll emerge under the cover of darkness and in numbers seen only in horror movies.

After 17 years of relative peace and quiet, more than a dozen counties in northwest and west-central Ohio this spring once again will experience the distinctive sights and sounds of periodical cicadas. Although they aren't expected in Lucas County, millions of winged insects will overrun trees in backyards as far north as Findlay in Hancock County.

The male cicada makes a loud and shrill sound by vibrating a special organ on its abdomen. After about a month of this distinctive - yet annoying - sound, mating rituals, and flying haphazardly into trees, houses, and open car windows, the cicadas will die off. Their young then will burrow into the ground to start 17 years of feeding until it is their turn to reappear.

The advice from entomologists on how to handle the arrival of these strange insects in the coming weeks is simple.

"First and foremost, enjoy it. They will only be here for a few weeks and then you won't see them again for 17 years," said Janet Stein Carter, an assistant professor of biology at the University of Cincinnati, Clermont College. "Little kids should have fun with these things. And older adults, they have to question whether they will be here the next time the cicadas come out."

Periodical cicadas are about 1 1/2 inches long, and are black with reddish-orange eyes and legs. Because they can't fly very well, they tend to emerge in the same spots every 17 years.

Although residents regularly hear the steady hum of "Dog-Day" or annual cicadas while outside during most summer months, this year's emergence will be much louder for residents in the affected areas. Though periodical cicadas emerge less frequently - as their name suggests - when they do, they come out in droves.

Periodical cicadas come out during different years in different portions of the country. This year, "Brood X," or 10, is set to unleash millions of cicadas in portions of 15 states across the Midwest and East Coast. The last time cicadas in this brood were seen was 1987.

"We are talking about a very large number of large insects," said Dan Pavuk, a lecturer in biological sciences at Bowling Green State University. "This is a big population of insects. This will be the biggest of the 17-year periodical cicadas. It should be interesting."

It is unclear why northwest Ohio's most northern counties have escaped the cicada infestation, Mr. Pavuk said. But based on the stories from residents who live in the counties where the insects appear, he added, Lucas, Fulton, and Wood counties may be getting off easy.

Dan Mozgai remembers an outdoor wedding he attended in the summer of 1996 in New Jersey. It was then that the members of Brood II were making their way into the world for their short adult lives. Mr. Mozgai, 35, of New Jersey, said it was the comical sight of watching the bugs climbing the legs of various guests as the bride and groom said their vows that led him to start a Web site,

Mr. Mozgai said he now responds to thousands of questions each year from people learning they too will be under cicada siege. Last month alone, his Web site had upward of 65,000 hits.

Harking back to the New Jersey wedding experience, his site also lists several suggestions on how to make a "cicada wedding" successful, like offering containers for children to collect them and having a sound system loud enough to drown them out.

"People don't know anything about them and they associate them with locusts, which are associated with the Bible and the end of time," Mr. Mozgai said. "When the cicadas come in, it's an amazing event. It is definitely out of the ordinary."

Like others with an interest in cicadas, Mr. Mozgai tells people not to be scared of the harmless bugs. And don't worry if your dog, or even your child, eats one or two. The insects are not harmful. In fact, in some cultures, cicadas are considered delicacies.

As the emergence of Brood X continues to approach, more and more recipes are available online for those so inclined to indulge.

Dan Balser, a forest health specialist with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, best summed up the cicadas' arrival in one word - "nuisance." Because they don't cause a lot of problems and are so short-lived, Mr. Balser joined those who recommend that humans just enjoy the creature sideshow as much as possible.

"If you're going to have an outdoor picnic or wedding, well, now that will be interesting. And watch your pets. If they eat too many of them, they could be sick," he said. "Then in five or six weeks, it will be over and you can relax for 17 years."

Contact Erica Blake at: or 419-724-6076.

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