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Common name:  Cicada

Scientific name:  Magicicada septendecim and related Magicicada species (perennial cicadas) and Neotibicen species (annual cicadas). There are three species of periodical cicadas with a 17-year life cycle and four species with a 13-year life cycle.

Hosts:  A wide range of trees and shrubs can be damaged by the egg-laying process of these insects. Smaller, younger trees and shrubs are more likely to suffer serious damage.

Each year, somewhere in the United States east of the Rocky Mountains, a brood of the periodical cicadas emerges. The northern third of Illinois is in the range of Brood XIII, which last appeared in 2007. Its next appearance is due in 2024. Both the periodical and annual cicadas are native to North America. Annual or ‘dog day’ cicadas emerge every year, but do very little damage. The noise produced by cicadas can be very loud and annoying.

Adult cicadas have piercing-sucking mouthparts. They feed very little. Any feeding is limited to sucking sap from young twigs. The principal damage suffered by trees and shrubs results from egg-laying by the adult female. The damage is confined mainly to smaller twigs and branches. As many as 600 eggs are laid in numerous, small, elongate slits made by means of a long, knife-like ovipositor. Heavily damaged twigs and branches may wilt and break off. Some injured branches may not die the first year, but the wounded area is a weak site on the plant and may eventually break off in a windstorm. The population of periodical cicadas is much higher than the population of annual cicadas. As a result, more damage is done by the periodical species.

There are two kinds of cicadas in Northern Illinois, the annual or ‘dog day’ cicada and the periodical cicada. The annual cicadas are green to black in color with transparent wings that have green veins. The eyes are green or black. They appear each year from July to September. The periodical cicadas are black. They have red eyes and transparent wings with red to red-orange veins. They emerge in May and June for about 4 weeks. Both types of cicadas are harmless to humans. Their sound may be a minor nuisance.

Cicadas overwinter in the soil as nymphs. Periodical cicadas spend 13 or 17 years below ground, depending on the species. After completing this multi-year cycle, the full-grown nymphs make their way up to the surface where they crawl up a convenient vertical object such as a tree trunk. They emerge in Northern Illinois in late spring and are present for about 4 weeks. The outer covering (exoskeleton) of the nymph splits open, and the winged adult emerges, leaving behind the hollow skin casing. The adult cicada lives for 20-25 days. The adults feed briefly, then mate and lay hundreds of eggs. The eggs hatch in six or seven weeks. The nymphs fall to the ground and burrow into the soil, seeking suitable roots to which they can attach their piercing-sucking mouthparts. The nymphs will remain there for 13 to 17 years. The annual cicada is not truly annual.  It has a similar life cycle to the periodical cicada, but will spend two to five years below ground. Because there are overlapping broods, some adults will emerge every year.

Cultural management:

When planting small trees and shrubs in a year when emergence is expected, protective measures should be exercised. Cover the branches of shrubs and small trees, 2 inches or less in diameter, with fine netting, such as cheesecloth or tulle, during the egg-laying period. Secure the netting to the trunk in order to prevent the insects from getting inside the covering. Most evergreens, such as pines and spruces, need not be protected, since the cicadas do not lay eggs in their branches.

Chemical management:

Research has shown insecticides may kill adult cicadas but will not harm deposited egg masses. Since cicadas are a desirable food source for many animals and birds, insecticide use is not recommended.

The pesticide information presented in this publication is current with federal and state regulations. The user is responsible for determining that the intended use is consistent with the label of the product being used. The information given here is for educational purposes only. Reference to commercial products or trade names is made with the understanding that no discrimination is intended and no endorsement made by The Morton Arboretum.

For more information, contact The Morton Arboretum Plant Clinic (630-719-2424 or plantclinic@mortonarb.org).