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Cicadas bring back the buzz | News

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Cicadas bring back the buzz
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(GANNETT NEWS SERVICE) -- They're loud, they're ugly and for the next four to five weeks, they'll be in your face.

Cicadas: They're back, and although they don't cause any real harm - except perhaps to some younger trees and the stomachs of pets who will eat them like popcorn - they'll be getting on the nerves of most Middle Tennesseans.

RELATED: Cicadas abuzz in Georgia

People in north Macon, Jones County, and some other areas say the bugs' high-pitched buzzing is causing a racket around the region.

"They are kind of creepy because they are so big," Jesse Blazewicz said after she took some cicada pictures at her East Nashville home. "They sit on the fence, they sit on the garbage can. But I'm not too worried about them because they don't bother you."

As long as you don't mind the bugs getting in your hair, your clothes and your mind with the constant and incessant drone that is the male mating call.

The insects that make their pilgrimage out of the ground to mate every 13 years don't bite or sting, and if one flies into your mouth, they are safe - and even somewhat healthy - to eat, said Belmont University entomologist Steve Murphree, also a member of the Tennessee Entomological Society.

'Just a nuisance'

"There is no major concern, it's just a nuisance," said Derek Johnson, owner of JVI Secret Gardens in Donelson. "It's Mother Nature taking its course."

Cicadas live on tree roots underground for 13 years and generally arrive in the world by crawling up a tree trunk in their immature or nymph form. They crawl out of their shells, which get left behind on flowers and patio furniture, and initially have a creamy white, almost ghostly appearance, Murphree said. Within days, they will completely morph into flying adults.

Murphree remembers how the cicadas invited themselves to Belmont's 1998 graduation, and he heard similar reports about other commencements.

"When one drops on your head while you're gardening, or into the potato salad at your picnic, you're hard-pressed to remember that Mother Nature has a purpose intended for her creatures," said Chris Wolf, a public relations specialist in Green Hills.

This weekend's big outdoor event is the annual Iroquois Steeplechase at Percy Warner Park.

"Hopefully they won't be out," Steeplechase chairman Dwight Hall said. "The field itself is pretty open; the trees are more on the periphery. We've talked to Metro Parks, and they don't present an issue other than they are annoying."

Young trees at risk

Eventually, the females of the 13-year brood will make slits in slender tree branches and lay their eggs. That probably won't bother an established tree, but it can impact certain branches on younger trees, according to Duncan Borders, owner of Moore & Moore Garden Center in Bellevue.

"The last time they came out, 13 years ago, they didn't kill trees, but they damaged some of the younger or minor branches on younger trees," Borders said. "You may have to do some pruning, but, typically, trees can rebound from that. Plants like perennials and flowers, I wouldn't worry about in the least bit."

Because the threat of damage is minimal, covering a plant or tree may ultimately do more harm than good because of the loss of sunlight, Borders said, though there are see-through coverings, such as tobacco cloths, that allow light.

The noise, which is the mating call done by the males, should begin to increase, perhaps this week, as more cicadas emerge from the ground. Because machines like mowers or lawn trimmers can produce sounds similar to that of cicadas, they sometimes cause the insects to swarm toward the source of the noise, Murphree said.

Outdoor animals, particularly dogs, can fill up on cicadas as they emerge. The animal may vomit, but usually because they've overindulged or because of the sudden change to their normal diet, said Grassmere Animal Hospital Veterinarian Carol Machery.

"There is no toxic component to cicadas,'' Machery said. "I've even heard of people storing them in a freezer for dog treats."

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