Cicada chaos: Get ready for singing, shells & lawn potholes


As spring ushers in its milder days, a question looms for many: how do we prepare for the cicada emergence? 

This year, in a rare natural spectacle not witnessed in 221 years, two separate periodical cicada broods are set to emerge simultaneously across 17 states, from Alabama to Virginia, including Arkansas, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Wisconsin. From mid-May to late June, we anticipate the arrival of these creatures, which could number in the trillions, with densities as high as 1.5 million cicadas per acre.

In this article, we'll explore the secrets behind the cicada's song, the mystery of their sudden garden appearances, and, most importantly, how to coexist with these fascinating creatures during their brief visit above ground. With our insights, you'll learn what to expect and how to appreciate and safeguard your green sanctuary amidst this incredible, once-in-a-lifetime event.

Cicada holes: Prelude to an emergence

The first sign that the cicada emergence is upon us can be spotted in the form of small, round holes across the lawn. These features are not simply imperfections on your garden's surface but signify the exit tunnels of cicadas, marking the culmination of their extensive subterranean phase. For nearly two decades—specifically 17 years for many species—these insects have resided beneath the earth, awaiting the right conditions to surface. 

Image 1 - Map of cicada broods in United States

The timing of their emergence is intricately tied to the temperature of their environment. Periodical cicadas, in particular, remain underground until the soil temperature approximately 8 inches deep reaches around 65°F (about 17-19.5°C). This temperature—often achieved when the surrounding soil warms or through the heat provided by warm spring rains—serves as a natural signal for cicadas that the time has come. This temperature threshold is crucial, as cicada bodies need to warm to at least 65°F (17-19.5 Celsius) before they venture above ground.

As the expected emergence nears, gardeners and homeowners might observe additional signs beyond these distinctive dime-sized holes. The soil around tree bases may loosen, and patches of grass could appear less vigorous, indicators of the cicadas' final underground activities. Moreover, in conditions where the soil is moist or muddy, cicadas may craft intricate mud (or cicada) chimneys above their holes where they plan to emerge. These structures—evident a few weeks before the cicadas come out of their holes—may appear as simple golf ball-sized domes or even as elaborate constructions over six inches tall. 

To accommodate our impending guests and protect your garden, Dr. Killigan's recommends adopting gentle lawn care practices. Forego heavy landscaping work that might disturb the emerging cicadas and opt for environmentally friendly, non-invasive maintenance to ensure a balance between a healthy garden and the natural cycle of these fascinating insects.

Fun fact: Pre-emergence, you can find cicadas under stones and slates. One clue that a nymph is not ready to emerge is its eyes are still white. Their eyes turn red/orange before emerging (though a few retain a white/blue color).

Fact: Nymphs ingeniously track the passage of time underground by sensing the annual uptick in fluid flowing through the roots they feed on, which occurs with each year's spring growing season. This ability to detect subtle changes in their environment signals to the cicadas when it's time to emerge.

The cicada shell: Nature's exoskeleton exhibition

Following the quiet prelude of cicada holes, our gardens and trees soon become stages for a more visible sign of the cicada emergence: the shedding of their exoskeletons. These cicada shells, or exuviae, are the remnants of the nymph stage, left clinging to tree trunks and branches as silent witnesses to an extraordinary transformation. 

Image 2 - Cicada emerging from it's shell

The molting process—where cicadas emerge from these shells to take on their adult form—is a crucial phase in their lifecycle. During this final molt, the nymphs climb onto trees (or other vertical surfaces), where they attach themselves before breaking free from their old exoskeleton. This shell is left behind as the cicadas reveal their fully formed wings for the first time, unfurling them delicately as they prepare for their brief adult life. 

These delicate, paper-thin cicada shells are not only fascinating and eerily beautiful but also present a unique educational opportunity. Explore these natural artifacts up close. Turn them into a hands-on learning experience about insect metamorphosis and the resilience of the natural world. 

Why not make this cicada season a family adventure? Collect these exoskeletons to create an educational display or a piece of nature art, capturing a tangible memory of the year the cicadas sang. Share your creations with us on social media using #DrKilligansCicadaDiscovery. The most creative display wins an Insect Buster Bulb Duster. We'd love to see how you're making the most of this natural phenomenon.

Fact: The cicadas' strategy of simultaneously surfacing in massive numbers, sometimes reaching up to 1.5 million individuals per acre, effectively saturates their predators— ranging from songbirds to skunks—to the point of satiation, leaving many cicadas untouched in the grand, buzzing feast.

The giant cicada: A closer look at the insect behind the song

Among the myriad voices that will fill the air during the upcoming cicada emergence, the Giant Cicada stands out—for both its considerable size and powerful song. With bodies that can stretch to several inches, these giants of the cicada world produce a song that is as deep and resonant as their appearance suggests. Their powerful serenades are designed to travel long distances, cutting through the dense chorus of the cicada population, ensuring their calls for mates are heard above the rest.

If you’re wondering why giant cicadas even exist, well, it’s the result of a complex interplay of evolutionary, ecological and environmental factors that have shaped their development over millions of years. Their size is just one of many adaptations that have allowed cicadas to thrive in diverse habitats around the world.

Cicada's song: Nature's serenade

Have you ever paused in your garden to listen to the symphony of nature around you? As the cicada season approaches, we challenge you to do just that. 

Image 3 - Cicadas emerging from their hole

As the peak of the emergence soon approaches, the cicadas' songs will fill the air, becoming the unmistakable soundtrack of late spring and early summer. This chorus is not merely a call to mate but a vibrant celebration of life and perseverance.

Interestingly, each cicada species boasts a unique song, creating a diverse and rich soundscape. From the enchanting mating serenades of the males to their more jarring distress signals, these songs serve nature's version of a dating app. While the males' varied calls play a crucial role in attracting mates and deterring threats, females respond with subtle wing flicks.

At the heart of these serenades are the tymbals—specialized, ribbed membranes found on either side of a male cicada's abdomen. These tymbals, acting much like a drumhead, vibrate to produce sound waves when the attached muscles rapidly contract and relax. Though relatively inconspicuous, tucked beneath the cicada's wings, they are responsible for one of summer's most iconic sounds.

As millions of males vie for attention in a full-scale cicada emergence, like the one soon to grace much of the eastern half of the United States, their collective call can swell to a deafening crescendo. The amorous din generated by these choruses can reach roughly 100 decibels, nearly matching the intensity of standing three feet from a chainsaw.

Dr. Killigan's suggests taking a moment to truly listen and appreciate the cicada's serenade. Recording their songs can be a wonderful way to engage with and preserve this ephemeral experience. It's a reminder to embrace a unique natural phenomenon, one that offers a pause for reflection and appreciation in our often hectic lives.

Embracing cicada season with Dr. Killigan's

As we gear up for the remarkable cicada emergence, view this not just as a biological event, but as a celebration of nature's resilience and complexity. While the presence of cicadas may introduce minor inconveniences, their arrival is a spectacle to be both appreciated and respected. 

Image 4 - Dr. Killigans plant-powered pest control

But remember, appreciating the cicada chaos goes beyond mere observation; it's an opportunity to engage with nature thoughtfully and sustainably. Dr. Killigan's is dedicated to supporting your journey through eco-friendly solutions that protect both your home and the environment. Explore our range of products designed to gently manage any challenges the cicada season may bring, without disrupting the delicate balance of the ecosystem around us.

Moreover, we invite you to share your cicada season stories. Have you experienced a cicada emergence before? What was it like? Share your tales and photos with us on Instagram. Your experiences could inspire others to appreciate the beauty and intrigue of this natural event even more deeply.

We also encourage you to dive deeper into sustainable gardening practices that harmonize with nature's rhythms. Visit our website for tips, products and ideas on how to make your garden a haven for wildlife and a testament to eco-conscious care.

Embrace this temporary, magical phenomenon with curiosity, care, and a bit of assistance from Dr. Killigan's. Together, let's make this cicada season a time of wonder and environmental stewardship, fully enjoying the extraordinary spectacle that nature offers.


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