OAKWOOD, Ohio (WDTN) – Millions of cicadas emerged across the Miami Valley. In a few weeks, the carcasses will pile up in the yards where the mating calls are loudest right now.
Don Cipollini has plans to take advantage of the dead cicada surplus. He is a professor of biological sciences at Wright State University.
“This study was a little bit like one of these opportunistic studies that arises with these questions that people have about what benefits do these things provide in say our backyards,” Cipollini said. “So we’re going to investigate the effect of cicadas in lawn grass.”
A cicada is rich with nitrogen. A nutrient Cipollini said is essential in plants.
“To make chlorophyll they need nitrogen, to build enzymes, proteins, to be able to conduct photosynthesis in the first place they need nitrogen,” Cipollini said. “Every one of those cicada bodies is essentially like a pellet of fertilizer. So, you could literally sweep them off of your sidewalks or off of your driveways and scatter them in your yard.”
Nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium are nutrients that make up a fertilizer purchased in a store. Suzanna Mills-Wasniak is the educator of agriculture and natural resources for Ohio State University Extension in Montgomery County.
“Think of it as when you apply nitrogen to your grass it greens up. It blushes up. It gets very beautiful, and you have to go through and cut it quicker,” Mills-Wasniak said.
Cipollini said they are going to determine the amount of fertilizer the cicada bodies provide for a lawn compared to the artificial or synthetic fertilizer.
“It’s to give people an indication of what return these cicadas are proving in their own backyards in terms of a lawn. You could do the same kinds of studies with other plants, young trees for example,” Cipollini said.
Mills-Wasniak suggests leaving cicadas around the tree where they die.
“It is recommended that we let decomposition take its course and provide the nutrients back into the trees where they’re young are going to be emerging from and burrowing into the ground,” Mills-Wasniak said.
The cicadas fed from the tree roots for 17 years, so it’s a way of returning what they gathered from the tree.
“They’re going to give nitrogen back to the ground. They’re going to give a lot of other nutrients back into the ground to help the trees,” Mills-Wasniak said.
Cipollini said it will take a while for the bodies to decompose.
“Microbes like fungi and bacteria will start to basically infest the bodies and slowly decompose them and turn them back into soil eventually, but that takes some time,” Cipollini said. “It’s not that they disappear overnight.”
Cipollini said cicadas are essentially rotting through the process and they will begin to smell.
“You can basically mitigate that by spreading them out or putting them into a compost pile where you turn them over with vegetation and leaf litter and stuff like that,” Cipollini said.
Susan Mills-Wasniak said cicadas are a green material and they will need to be mixed with brown material when composting for a garden.
“You’re going to have to make sure you get your mixture right,” Mills-Wasniak said. “Trying to get that recipe correct so you get total decomposition and lessen the smell, it’s going to be kind of more of an art than a science.”
“You can mix them with lawn clippings, mix them with fallen leaves from last year. You can mix them with some straw, wheat straw and kind of create a balanced mix,” Cipollini said. “I’d say maybe one quarter to three-quarters cicadas to other material to get a nice mixture of nutrients in that final compost that you produce from that.”