Southern Utah residents bugged by the song of the cicada

The exoskeleton of a cicada on a tree trunk, St. George, Utah, July 21, 2018 | Photo by Joyce Kuzmanic, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — The annual buzz is back, leaving many in St. George wondering what that noise is and how to make it stop.

The shrill noise coming from the trees is made by male cicadas, droning on in hopes of attracting a mate.

The exoskeleton of a cicada on a tree trunk, St. George, Utah, July 21, 2018 | Photo by Joyce Kuzmanic, St. George News

Mark Hodges, founder of Arbor Tech, a professional tree care and landscaping company, has noticed a lot of cicadas in locust and ash trees around St. George.

Cicadas eat and drink by sucking the xylem, or sap, from plants and trees. This process does not harm the trees.

“They’re consuming the tree, but it’s not damaging to it. It’s like a mosquito bite to us,” Hodges said.

The only harm cicadas do to trees is called “flagging,” which is when cicadas lay eggs in a weak branch of a tree causing it to die, according to Cicada Mania. However, this can actually be good for the tree, acting as pruning the weak branch so the tree no longer has to waste energy on a weak or dying branch.

The cicadas are loud, obnoxious and occasionally frighten people by flying by them, but this is their only offense. They don’t sting or bite, and Hodges has never seen an instance where cicadas have caused any real damage to trees.

Cicadas are resistant to bug sprays, so attempting to get rid of them with spray will be harmful to the environment, only last a few days and will kill more bees and other insects than cicadas, Hodges said.

“Sometimes when trying to control those nuisances we end up causing more problems than what we solved.”

Hodges said that destroying the egg sack is the most effective way to reduce the cicada population. Cicadas lay their egg sacks in a tree, just under the bark.

A cicada’s life span, depending on the species, can be around 17 years, according to National Geographic. Most of this time is spend underground. After a cicada hatches from its egg, it burrows into the ground and drinks from plant roots.

The exoskeleton of a cicada on a tree trunk, St. George, Utah, July 21, 2018 | Photo by Joyce Kuzmanic, St. George News

According to Cicada Mania, after the cicada makes its way above ground it climbs to a tree and sheds its exoskeleton, leaving it clinging to the tree to startle passersby.

Cicadas emerge from the ground only to mate, which is why they make that familiar loud singing, to attract female cicadas. Once above ground, they have about one month to live.

In the eastern half of the U.S., many cicadas come in broods, or groups of periodical cicadas that hatch in cycles. There are 12 broods that come out every 13-17 years depending on the group. The cicadas in the western U.S. however, including Utah, are annual cicadas and come out every year. Utah is home to 35 different species of annual cicadas.

Another insect that sounds like a cicada is a locust, and while the two can be hard to tell apart, they are different from each other.

Many people confuse the two, but locusts are more similar to grasshoppers, they have large hind legs for jumping and eat all kinds of plants while cicadas have small legs for perching and only drink the sap from plants, according to Cicada Mania.

Not only are cicadas harmless, they also play an important part in the ecosystem by providing a nourishing food source for animals, and even some people, around the world.

While cicadas can be loud, annoying and occasionally startling, they bring back pleasant memories for many people who grew up hearing them and finding their discarded exoskeletons. And since they are nearly impossible to exterminate, and live such short lives above ground, it may be best to simply wait them out.

Email: mshoup@stgnews.com

Twitter:  @STGnews | @MikaylaShoup

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2018, all rights reserved.

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5 Comments

  • comments July 27, 2018 at 9:40 pm

    Yeah, they kinda sound like high-voltage power lines. People that are whining about them need to get it together and stop being such babies. If you can hear them thru a closed window you’ve got some real crappy windows…

  • justcap July 28, 2018 at 9:17 am

    I love the sound of the cicadas; it’s one of my favorite summer sounds and has been since I was a kid Texas.

  • An actual Independent July 28, 2018 at 4:46 pm

    That’s the sound of summer heat. But it also means Fall is on the way.

  • RadRabbit July 28, 2018 at 11:57 pm

    Sound of summer here in St George if ya don’t like it you can move back to California.

  • Scott July 30, 2018 at 11:30 am

    I like the fact that cicadas drown out traffic noise in my neighborhood. We’d be well-served by connecting more with nature.

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