The cicadas are here. How to cope with (or enjoy) a natural miracle

It’s … time. After months of expectation and a few teasers, the great periodical cicada emergence of 2024 is upon us.

“We’re definitely in the beginning of the throes of it,” Morton Arboretum Plant Health Care Leader Stephanie Adams said Monday.

Adams spent the day observing cicadas and collecting soil temperatures, which have to be about 64 degrees, 8 inches down, to nudge the somnolent beasts from their 17-year nap.

“It’s warmer today than it was in the last two days so I imagine it’s going to pick up. They started emerging a lot more on Thursday and Friday of last week, but this has really been an explosion,” she said.

The debut of cicada Brood XIII is a sublime moment for entomologists like Kaci Athey with the University of Illinois Extension.

“I really, really encourage people to appreciate these super, strange animals. Most insects don’t nearly live this long,” Athey said.

  Cicadas are making their long-awaited appearance, leaving behind exoskeletons like these on a tree in McHenry County. Paul Valade/

To help you embrace your inner cicada, here’s some common questions and answers from the experts.

Q. Why are cicadas swarming the neighbors’ but not my house? Are they messing with me?

A. “There’s individual differences; it’s not like every cicada is coming out on the same day,” Athey said.

It also comes down to “microclimates” on your block and garden, University of Illinois Extension Horticulture Educator Jamie Viebach said.

“If you’ve got an area covered with mulch vs. covered with turf or an area that gets full sun vs. a shady area — these different things affect the soil temperature,” she explained.

Q. My cicadas aren’t making conventional noises. What’s with that?

A. In the Chicago area, “there are three species of periodical cicadas in that brood and their songs sound different,” Athey explained.

“There’s one that sounds like a buzzing, it’s probably the loudest one. There’s one that has been likened to a whirring spaceship noise, the second-loudest one. And there’s a third one that kind of sounds like a knocking.”

Q. How do I protect my trees?

A. Large, mature trees shouldn’t be harmed by cicadas, but smaller, new ones need protection, Arboretum Plant Clinic Manager Spencer Campbell advises.

He recommends swathing vulnerable trees in fine mesh netting, such as tulle, that can be obtained at fabric or garden stores. For more information, go to

Q. What are the positives of this mass emergence?

A. There’s a huge benefit for wildlife, particularly birds that need insects to feed their young, Campbell said.

It’s a fantastic opportunity for children to learn about the natural world and engage their parents, too, he added.

For adults, “my hope is they tap into that inner curiosity … and view these for what they are. A special event that comes only once every 17 years.”

Q. Can I get rid of the cicadas in my backyard?

A. “Just leave them be,” Viebach said. “They’re not going to hurt anything. We definitely don’t recommend any kind of pesticide application; it’s really not going to do any good.”

Q. How long will this last?

A. Scientists expect everything to wrap up by late June or early July.

Q. What should I do with all the expired cicadas?

A. “The best thing to do with the exoskeletons as well as decomposing bodies … is throw them right into the garden” or place around trees, Campbell said.

Gardeners should mix the insects up with mulch, for example, and spread them out to allow for decomposition. “It’s almost like a free fertilization,” he noted.

  A cicada sheds its exoskeleton on a tree in Mount Prospect. Jim Slusher/
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