SALEM, Ohio — The last time cicadas from Brood XIV emerged, George Bush Sr. was leading the nation, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air was on prime time, and a gallon of gasoline cost $1.15.
Since 1991, this brood has been feeding and maturing underground in southwestern Ohio, central and eastern Pennsylvania, western West Virginia and nearly all of Kentucky.
This year, they’re coming back.
The cicadas began surfacing during the first week of May in southern Kentucky. As the temperature rises and the ground gets warmer, the emergence will move northward, going through Ohio’s Hamilton, Clermont, Brown, Adams, Scioto and Lawrence counties before reaching the northernmost points in Highland and Ross counties.
A smaller number of these periodical cicadas will also emerge in Ohio’s Butler, Champaign, Clinton, Gallia, Greene, Jackson, Pike and Warren counties.
The emergence in Ohio was expected to begin the week of May 11, according to Dan Balser of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources Division of Forestry. It will likely peak at the end of May or beginning of June.
Brood XIV includes three species of cicadas and can also be found in Indiana, North Carolina and Tennessee.
There are several misconceptions about the periodical cicada. It’s not the same cicada seen each summer in the northeastern U.S. That cicada is the dog-day cicada, sometimes called a jarfly. It is larger and has a brownish-green hue.
The periodical cicada is black with red markings and bright red eyes. They are generally about 1.5 inches long and seen for only four to six weeks beginning in May, while the dog-day cicada appears in July and August.
The periodical cicada is not a locust, although many people call them 17-year locusts.
The periodical cicada is native to North America and exists nowhere else in the world.
There are six species of periodical cicada, three with a 17-year cycle and three with a 13-year cycle.
Periodical cicada populations — called broods — are identified by Roman numerals. All eight broods that occur in Pennsylvania require 17 years to reach maturity.
Louisville, Ky., experienced an emergence of periodical cicadas a few years back. That was Brood X, which was not a large emergence and affected only limited areas.
The most recent cicada emergence in Ohio occurred in 2004 in the western part of the state. After this year, Ohio won’t see another emergence until 2016 when cicadas will invade the eastern portion of the Buckeye State.
Cicadas are noted for the distinctive humming noise they make. While the sound might be annoying, unsettling or just way too loud, experts say the insects won’t hurt humans.
“These insects are harmless to people, but they cause some damage to shade trees, fruit trees and high-value woody ornamental plants,” said Penn State extension entomologist Gregory Hoover.
Ric Bessin, a University of Kentucky entomologist, said it’s not unheard of to have tens of thousands in a large tree.
Males produce a high-pitched whining sound during daylight hours to attract a female.
While one male may not produce much sound, 10,000 males do. The result is a very distinctive droning sound that can rise to an ear-splitting level.
Cicada nymphs spend 17 years living 2-24 inches underground. In late April and May, they burrow to within an inch of the soil surface, where they wait to emerge.
When the time is right, the nymphs exit the soil through half-inch holes and climb a foot or more up trees or other objects. Within an hour, they shed their skins and become adults.
Adult cicadas can fly for short distances, but they are clumsy and often collide with objects during flight. Males begin their constant singing shortly after they emerge, but the females are silent.
On rare occasions when an adult eats, it sucks fluid from small twigs, but does not feed on leaves. Adults can live up to four weeks above ground.
Ten days following emergence, mating takes place.
The female lays her eggs at the ends of branches, because her sword-like ovipositor, or egg layer, more easily pierces the younger, softer wood.
She saws slits into the wood parallel to the branch and deposits about a dozen eggs into each wound.
Six to seven weeks after the eggs are laid, nymphs hatch and drop to the ground. They enter the soil, where, for the next 17 years, the walnut-sized nymphs will feed on the sap from tree roots.
Nearly two decades later, they emerge from the ground as adults and begin the cycle again.
The female cicadas don’t do serious damage to established trees, but the egg-laying process does weaken small limbs and seedlings and provide openings for disease.
But damage is usually limited.
Even if the cicadas do cause some tree limbs to die, it will only affect the last 3 feet of the branches. Next year, the trees will simply pick up and start growing again.
Brood XIV emergence map