Cicada invasion and the environmental impacts

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GERMANTOWN, Ohio (WDTN) – Cicada chimneys are seen along the trail at Germantown MetroPark. Small towers of mud or dime-sized holes in the ground are the first signs of the cicada emergence later this month.

Erin Rowekamp is a Naturalist with Five Rivers MetroParks. Once the cicadas emerge she said you will have lots of cicadas flying around you and gathering on the trees.

“There’s going to be an emergence of millions of cicadas, so they’re definitely going to be present,” Rowekamp said, “You’re going to notice them.”

While the cicadas are flying around the parks Rowekamp said the trees will develop brown spots.

“The females actually lay their eggs in the end of tree limbs,” Rowekamp said. “Sometimes the limb actually breaks where the female lays those eggs.”

She called it natural pruning.

“It’s not something to really have to be concerned about,” Rowekamp said.

“When that tip of the twig drops off the buds that are in the back part of that will sprout two different new twigs so you get denser canopies,” Joe Boggs said. “That’s not a bad thing.”

Boggs is an Associate Professor at Ohio State University and works with OSU Entomology and OSU Extension. He said as the cicada nymphs are loosening the soil as they crawl around right now.

“When you think how underneath an oak tree you might have thousands and thousands and thousands moving through the soil, that adds up and I think there’s value to that,” Boggs said.

Boggs said they also bring value to the food chain.

“Bears fatten up on them,” Boggs said. “Foxes will eat them. This is just a huge bounty of nourishment for a lot of animals in the spring coincidently when some animals are reproducing.”

Don Cipollini is a professor of biological sciences at Wright State University. He said wildlife will benefit from the large population of cicadas this year.

“There have been lots of studies on bird populations, and small mammal populations showing that they benefit for the next year or two after this large emergence,” Cipollini said. “Their populations are larger as a result of this huge input of this huge food source.”

Cipollini said they emerge in a large population so enough cicadas will survive long enough to reproduce.

“This is just their natural life cycle,” Cipollini said. “I think it’s a wonderful spectacle of nature that I hope people enjoy.”

When a cicada first hatches from the egg it’s about the size of an ant. It will fall to the ground and begin digging to find the root of the tree. Cipollini said this is where it will live for 17 years.

“They’ve been living as nymphs attached to tree roots and drinking sap from the tree. That has relatively little impact on the tree,” Cipollini said. When they emerge they’re also not very damaging.”

The cicadas that avoid being eaten will mate and die.

“When they die and fall to the ground they’re essentially returning their benefits to the earth,” Cipollini said. “They are returning a great deal of nitrogen back to the soil that they themselves have taken up through their feeding activities on trees.”

He said they can be used as a natural fertilizer.

“You can compost them, you can rake them up and put them in your garden and they’re a form of organic fertilizer at that point,” Cipollini said.

Cipollini said they will study the impact the dead cicadas have on plants through fertilization. They will also look at how the females lay eggs and if the processes impact how other insects interact with the tree.

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