Peak cicada season arrives in Georgia

Close-up of a Cicada. 13-year periodical cicada from Brood XIX emerging in North Carolina April 2024. (Adobe Stock)

(Georgia Recorder) — Turns out the solar eclipse wasn’t the only rare natural phenomenon in store for 2024. Instead of looking up at the sky, Georgians should prepare themselves to look down at the ground – or maybe in the trees. Because this summer’s spectacular isn’t the moon or the sun, it’s a whole lot of bugs.

The special kind of cicada that only emerges from underground every 13 years is set to surface by mid-May this year and will appear in at least a dozen states in the Southeast, including Georgia.

Nationwide, this year’s batch of cicadas is particularly exciting because two types of periodical cicadas, which have black bodies, red eyes, and orange-tinted wings, will emerge at the same time. One of these broods is “The Great Southern Brood,” the largest periodical cicada brood in North America. Millions of periodical cicadas will emerge in Georgia as part of Brood XIX. By early June, the periodical cicadas will die off, replaced with the annual cicadas Georgians are used to that can last as long as November.

‘They’re harmless’

Nymphs, or baby cicadas, normally live below ground, eating the sap from hardwood tree roots. But every 13 years, they emerge and spend their adult lives above ground for a couple of weeks. Most of the cicadas will be concentrated in northwest Georgia outside of heavily concentrated metro areas. “It will be like having a National Geographic right in your own backyard,” Michael J. Raupp, emeritus professor of entomology at the University of Maryland, said. “You won’t have to travel to Africa to have seen some spectacular event because it’s going to happen right in the suburbs of the major cities of Georgia.”

Nancy Hinkle gets a close look at a Great Southern Brood cicada, a special kind that only emerges from underground every 13 years. It is set to surface by mid-May this year and will make an appearance in at least a dozen states in the Southeast, including Georgia. (Courtesy Nancy Hinkle)

With millions of cicadas crawling around, some may be tempted to flee the state. But entomologists who study cicadas say there’s nothing to fear. “They’re harmless. They can’t bite, can’t sting and are not poisonous. They’re not going to harm us. They can’t harm plants. They’re not going to do anything to your garden or your lawn,” Nancy C. Hinkle, an entomologist at University of Georgia who studies cicadas as a hobby said. “So no reason to be concerned. Just enjoy them.”

Cicadas play an important role in the ecosystem, transferring the biomass they eat from trees to the rest of the animal kingdom as birds and small mammals feed off of them.

“Everything out there is getting an extra boost of nutrition this year,” Hinkle said, adding that Georgia will see increased populations of deer, turkey, and other wildlife next spring because this year’s wildlife got extra nutrition from the large cicada population this summer. When the cicadas die, their bodies fertilize plants and return nutrients to the soil.

Life and death in the digital age

Entomologists urge everyday citizens who see cicadas to take photos and upload them to iNaturalist, a wildlife database that researchers around the country can pull from when investigating brood XIX. For researchers like Evan Lampert, a biology professor at the University of North Georgia, researching the distribution and timing of periodical cicadas, modern technology will make all the difference in studying cicadas in 2024 versus the last time they appeared in 2011.

“This is the largest emergence in Georgia and it’s really the first emergence of this brood in Georgia since a lot of the online citizen science has been around. Yes, there were smartphones back in 2011. But iNaturalist was just barely used at the time and Cicada Safari didn’t exist,” Lampert said. “This is our first chance to really get people all over the state involved in posting pictures and sending records in.”

Periodical cicadas will live among humans for just a short time before dying off.

“It’ll be both life and death that people have had an opportunity to witness. They’re going to see all the elements that go into the natural world in terms of birth and death and song and romance,” Raupp said.

Entomologists urge Georgians to take advantage of this unique natural phenomenon.

“It’s kind of like the eclipse that we had last month,” Hinkle said. “You only get a chance, maybe five, maybe six times in your life to actually see these cases emerging.”

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