Lately I have noticed an unusual number of “cicada shells,” those brown empty exoskeletons that cicadas leave behind in the garden. This morning, while I washed the lemon balm in a bowl of water, I found two exoskeletons in the water. I knew something was wrong. I went back outside and saw so many more, it was as if a giant had sprinkled them like red pepper flakes on a pizza. Periodical cicadas emerge every 13 or 17 years, depending on the species. In my Virginia garden, Brood X is a 17-year type that emerged in 2004 and will emerge again in 2021. A brood is a group that is part of a type, e.g., 17-year or 13-year, which emerges in the same geographic area as their parents emerged. Stragglers emerge several years earlier and there are fewer in number. The Brood X stragglers are emerging now in 2017, 4 years earlier.
Adult cicadas are large with black bodies, bulging red eyes, red legs, and translucent wings. They go through several stages of molting but we typically see them above ground as adults or we see their exoskeletons attached to plants, the deck, containers, and the house. They do not bite humans or sting, in fact, they are edible! These stragglers probably will not cause significant plant damage for me. It is just getting a little gross because there are so many now it detracts from the beauty of the plants. However, in 2021, when the Brood X emerges with many, many more cicadas, there could be plant damage as well as extreme levels of grossness. I remember last time there were so many dead ones on the ground at the gas stations, you could not help but step on them. I supposed the fumes did them in. Although I did not have damage in my garden, I knew they could cause significant damage to trees. Female cicadas carve slits in branches to lay their eggs, making the branches split open and/or become susceptible to disease. Fortunately, I don’t think there will be significant damage this year but look out for 2021!