A cicada perched on a tree branch during the daytime

17 years ago in 2004, “Brood X” of cicadas (named for the number 10 in Latin) spent a busy few weeks mating, then the nymphs headed underground to feed and grow — until now. In May 2021, the matured nymphs are expected to make a reappearance that will primarily take place on the Atlantic Coast of the United States. While we may not see as many cicadas in California, we’ll take this opportunity to go into the fascinating life cycle of this insect and whether cicada damage is common in CA.

Cicadas in California 101

There are eight different genera of cicadas in California divided into at least 65 different species — including 18 Platypedia species and 36 Okanagana species. Adult cicadas are a black or brown color with clear wings and are generally around 1½ inches in length.

After the females lay their eggs, the nymphs hatch, and fall to the ground where they burrow into the soil to feed and grow. Eventually, they emerge from the ground, shed their skins, and spend an hour or so turning from a pale white to their final black or brown color.

Mating Ritual

Once the cicadas have grown into adults, it’s time for them to mate and begin the cycle all over again. As with many animal species, the males call out with a loud song and the females respond with clicks in return. These songs can get very noisy — up to 90 decibels during the mating season!

Once the females and males have found each other, the mated females lay their eggs inside twigs around the diameter of a pencil. The burrowing can cause a splitting of the twig but rarely causes other damage. Once the mating weeks are over, the adult males go off and die.

Is Cicada Damage a Problem?

As mentioned at the beginning, cicadas in California don’t appear in the large numbers seen on the Eastern Coast and don’t generally pose a threat to crops. The main annoyances you might have from these insects is the presence of split bark on twigs from egg-laying.

Other than these deposits and the volume of their chirping, cicadas in California can actually provide a bit of fun. Kids usually love collecting the dried skin casts of cicadas and some people have taken to eating them (the adult cicadas — not the casts)!

Should You Take Any Preventative Measures Against Cicadas?

Because cicadas in California don’t pose a threat to crops, applying any kind of pesticide would do far more harm than good. Even if a pesticide were to prove effective (chemicals are usually not very effective against cicada damage to twigs), you would be harming your pollinators, the quality of the air, soil, and water around your crops, and spending large amounts of money needlessly.

If you’re planning on eating cicadas, the pesticides applied to the critters would also pass directly into your body and could cause serious harm to your health. As we’re already encouraged to reduce our use of chemicals, it’s best to save the heavy artillery for pests that cause real and far-reaching damage.

How to Enjoy Cicada Season

Wooden bench seats on a porch with ferns in the daytime

However many cicadas we see in California this year, we encourage you to take the chance to enjoy the season and appreciate the cycles of nature. These insects generally come out on warm, humid nights when it’s not raining — the ideal conditions to sit on your porch or patio and listen to their mating songs.

When you hear the cicadas calling, you might like to simply enjoy the sound or go down into the orchard and take a look. Newly-emerged cicadas are only white for an hour or so before they turn black or brown and begin to mate. The next day, the whole family could go and look for cicada casts. These make for a fun entomology presentation at school!

Cooking with Cicadas

If you’re up for expanding your culinary repertoire, experts explain that you can eat cooked cicadas in anything from stews and salads to desserts. The critters take on the flavors around them and add a delightful, nutty “crunch.” Biologically, cicadas are related to other creatures like shellfish that have an exoskeleton (known as arthropods), so it’s not so strange to think about consuming them.

The best time to collect cicadas in California is first thing in the morning when the adult cicadas are recently hatched. You should then boil them for a few minutes to kill any of the pathogens from underground. After removing the legs and wings, they’re ready to add to any dish. Because of the cicadas’ exoskeleton (similar to shellfish like shrimp), they definitely taste best when fried.

Follow the Latest Agricultural News at Fruit Growers Supply

Whether it’s cicadas in California, sales trends, or advice on issues like assessing cicada damage, Fruit Growers Supply Company is committed to providing the latest news and products to help you succeed. Established over 100 years ago, we are experienced at finding solutions for the times and remain dedicated to providing products that work.

If you need a crop-specific water filtration system, eye-catching corrugated packaging, pallets, or growing supplies, contact Fruit Growers Supply Company or visit us in-store. And if you find a cicada recipe you love, be sure to share it by leaving a comment below!

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