The Allure of Cicadas

This year, cicadas are re-emerging in many parts of the eastern United States. While not really locusts, they are considered a plague by some people. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Jim Blum goes beyond the backyard to find out there is little to fear:


This year, cicadas are re-emerging in many parts of the eastern United States.
While not really locusts, they are considered a plague by some people. The
Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Jim Blum goes beyond the backyard to find out
there is little to fear:

(sound of cicadas)

Reporter Jim Blum: “I’m Jim Blum with naturalist Dan Best. Seventeen years ago this
month, Magicicada septemdecula and other species of periodic cicadas rose out
of the ground to lay eggs. Then, and now, and likely 17 years from now,
communities will expect a disaster. Dan, is it?”

Naturalist Dan Best: “No, I wouldn’t call it a disaster. Tremendous
natural phenomenon, yes, but disaster, no. Anytime you have large, big buzzy insects
around, people tend to get shook up, whether it’s bumblebees or dragonflies, but
especially when something shows up in prodigious numbers like these cicadas.”

JB: “Now, unlike a large outbreak of gypsy moths, the periodic cicadas don’t
actually eat the leaves.”

DB: “No, that’s right. The damage we are likely to see is the result of
female cicadas laying eggs.”

JB: “How?”

DB: “Well, they have a structure called an ovipositor, and in the end of a
twig they will use this like a little saw to make slits in the twig where they
will lay their eggs inside of that.”

JB: “How will that be apparent to us?”

DB: “Well, the twig will split as a result of several of these little egg laying
gouges in the twig, and from that point the twig may die, or the end of the
branch. And so you’ll notice withered brown leaves at the tips of branches.”

JB: “And that’s what they recognize as ‘flagging?'”

DB: “That’s the term.”

JB: “Now, what size trees are going to be affected?”

DB: “Branches or twigs that are half-inch in diameter or smaller. So on
big, mature trees that’s just the outer growth, no big deal. The trees
that are more vulnerable are the young trees, where literally all the
branches are that size.”

JB: “If this is not a disaster, what is it?”

DB: “I think it’s a tremendous natural phenomenon to experience. It only
occurs like a comet or a blue moon, and perhaps even less frequently than that.
You don’t want to miss it.”

(guitar music)

JB: “Now what’s a good time to see this emergence?”

DB: “Evening, just after dark. You’ll see the holes before the actual
emergence. And then, as they emerge, they’ll be coming up and you’ll see
them all over small trees. The edge of the woods is a good place to see

JB: “From the pictures I’ve seen, and from what I remember from 17 years ago,
the periodic cicada, bumblebee sized, black, orange eyes and wings. Do
they look like this when they come out of the ground?”

DB: “No, they don’t. What comes out of the ground are the nymphs, the
golden brown color, and no wings at all. Then they make their way up a tree
trunk or out on a branch, and this exoskeleton that they have splits open and
out emerges the adult which is a creamy white color with red eyes and a
couple of big black patches on it.”

JB: “Dan, are these cicadas going to be everywhere?”

DB: “Well, they are not going to be popping out of every square foot of ground in
the area, but there will be kind of a spotty emergence. But very heavy in
some places.”

JB: “If the visual spectacle of the emergence for some reason, doesn’t happen in my yard,
will I have missed out on the experience?”

DB: “No, because it’s almost impossible to escape what comes next.”

(sound up of cicadas)

DB: “The sound is an overwhelming, even annoying, series of buzzes and ticks.”

JB: “How do they make this noise?”

DB: “This loud noise is created by the males to attract the females. The
males vibrate two drum-like membranes to create the sound, which is then
resonated or amplified by a hollow chamber in their body.”

JB: “Not unlike the sound box of a guitar.”

DB: “That’s right.”

(strumming on guitar)

JB: “How long will we hear them?”

DB: “We’ll here this noise during the month of June and be over by about the
Fourth of July.”

JB: “About the same time that the annual or dog days cicadas show up.”

DB: “That’s right, that we’ll here during the hot days of July and August.”

JB: “Now why are those called annual cicadas?”

DB: “Well, unlike the 17-year cicada, which emerges from a single brood in
our area, we have several broods of these annual cicadas which have a much
shorter cycle in the ground. So every year, one way or the other, we have
annual cicadas.”

JB: “Why 17?”

DB: “Jim, I can’t tell you, I don’t know, it’s just one of those great mysteries
of nature.”

JB: “That’s naturalist Dan Best, and I’m Jim Blum, for the Great Lakes Radio

(cicadas fade out)

Related Links

Community Wins Suit Against Egg Farm

An Ohio jury has awarded neighbors of a large factory farm $19.7 million in damages. People living near Buckeye Egg Farm in central Ohio have complained for years of fly infestations and odors. The outcome is seen as a victory by those living next to large-scale farm operations throughout the region. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Natalie Walston has the story:


An Ohio jury has awarded neighbors of a large factory farm 19.7 million dollars in damages. People living near Buckeye Egg Farm in Central Ohio have complained for years of fly infestations and odors. The outcome of the lawsuit may or may not affect similar cases in other states. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Natalie Walston reports.

(Natural sound of locusts, wind, dog barking in the distance)

Freda Douthitt’s house sits at the end of a gravel lane. The driveway is surrounded by trees and wild flowers. She’s always liked it here because it’s secluded … she’s a couple miles from a rural road. She likes to sit on the multi-tiered back patio that overlooks a small pond. That’s where she grades composition papers from her Freshman English class at Ohio University.

(sound of flies)

But she has also had to swat at flies for the past ten years. Douthitt collects flies in a container that is nearly the size of a gallon milk jug. She estimates this one has about 2-3 inches worth of decomposing flies and maggots collected since August 22.

“It smells out here. That’s the flytrap. That keeps some of them from getting in the house. Today there’s a few flies out here. There are days when that wall would be just polka dotted with them.

Douthitt has frozen the containers of flies and collected them over the years. She took them to court with her to prove the problems she deals with living near a factory farm.
That’s what helped her win a 1.2 million dollar share of a settlement with Buckeye Egg Farm. It’s one of the world’s largest egg-laying producers. Douthitt’s house is three-quarters of a mile from one of the company’s egg-laying plants. The flies come from the vast amounts of manure produced by millions of chickens housed at the company’s barns. The manure gets spread on farm fields that surround Douthitt’s house after harvest season in the fall. Since then … she has watched as run-off from Buckeye Egg properties killed tens-of-thousands of fish in a nearby creek. She has even seen the creek water turn purple.

She says she never expected to win in court against the company when she began the legal battle 9 years ago.

“I never thought about suing. Until one of the neighbors I’d been working hard with trying to get the EPA to do something … trying to get the county health department interested … um, we were both frustrated at that point. She called up one evening and said we’re ready to call a lawyer, are you? And I said, yeah, I’ll meet with you.
As the years went by I became pretty frustrated, and wondered what would make a difference.”

Douthitt and 20 of her neighbors won a 19.7 million dollar lawsuit against Buckeye Egg.
This win has other people in Great Lakes states hopeful they too can win in court against large factory farms.

Julie Janson of Olivia, Minnesota knows Douthitt’s story all too well. Janson has been fighting hog factory farm owner Valadco for 6 years. Her house sits sandwiched between two of the company’s hog barns. Janson and her husband filed a lawsuit this spring against the company. They are asking for close to 200-thousand dollars because Janson says her family of eight gets sick from manure odors.

Janson says she took her 11-year-old daughter to a specialist in California to prove she has brain damage from smelling hydrogen sulfide.

Decomposing manure creates hydrogen sulfide gas and ammonia that smells like rotten eggs.

“Sometimes it’s enough to gag a maggot. The stink is putrid. And, it penetrates through your house, through the windows and doors. Every little crack in your home.”

Janson says her family has spent one hundred thousand dollars to fight Valadco.
She had to close her daycare center, which she ran from her home, partly because of the stench. Her husband is supporting the family with his truck-driving job that brings in nearly 38-thousand dollars a year.

She says a win over Buckeye Egg farm in Ohio is a victory that can help her cause.

“There’s finally been some justice served. Some of these people have been fighting for over ten years. And … to me … it just says no matter how long and painful it is, you need to fight for justice because if us citizens don’t fight it’s never gonna happen.”

Both Janson and Douthitt say it’s not the money that will make them happy.
Douthitt says she will probably never see the money that she is owed.
But … she says the county judge may force the company to clean up its farms and the surrounding communities.

“How can they have that many animals and that much manure and let it just pour out and not treat it? They let it just pour out onto the land.”

Buckeye egg farm officials have said they may appeal the verdict. The company says it has already spent millions of dollars to try and clean up its facilities. Earlier this year, Buckeye Egg settled a multi-million dollar lawsuit with Ohio’s attorney general’s office. The state sued the company for dumping dead chickens in a field and polluting creeks by spilling contaminated water. The state has since filed seven sets of contempt charges against Buckeye Egg for not correcting the problems. It’s still undecided whether Buckeye Egg will file for bankruptcy following the verdict.

For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Natalie Walston.