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Periodical cicadas belong to a group of plant-sucking insects known as homopterans. Although they are often referred to as 17-year locusts, this is not an accurate name for these insects because locusts are a type of grasshopper and cicadas are in a different insect group.

The 17-year life cycle starts when the female cicada lays eggs in the twigs of trees in early summer. These eggs hatch six weeks later and the young cicada nymphs burrow into the soil. The nymphs feed on small plant roots for 17 years, when they emerge from the ground and molt into adults. During the four-to-six week adult stage, the cicadas will mate and the females will lay eggs, starting the cycle over again. The cicadas are well known for the droning noise the males emit to attract mates. When a large number of cicadas emerge in an area, the droning of the males has been described as deafening.

There are seven broods of cicadas in West Virginia, on different 17-year schedules. These broods occupy different areas of the state, although with some overlap. The largest is Brood V, which last emerged in 2016 in many northern and central counties and will return again in 2033. Periodical cicadas do not bite or sting, but the female can cause damage to trees as she punctures twigs to make pockets to deposit her eggs. Typically, dead leaves occur on the injured twigs, causing a prominent ‘‘flagging’’ for the remainder of the season. Young fruit and shade trees are especially susceptible to damage.

Periodical cicadas are dark with orange markings and red eyes and legs. This distinguishes them from other cicadas found in the state such as the dog-day cicadas, or jarflies. These dog-day cicadas emerge every year and are larger with green markings and black eyes. They are not considered agricultural pests.

This Article was written by Amy Donaldson Arnold

Last Revised on June 23, 2023

Related Articles


Shalaway, Scott. Periodical Cicadas. Wonderful West Virginia, (June 1999).

"The Periodical Cicada in West Virginia," Pamphlet. West Virginia Department of Agriculture, 1999.

Cite This Article

Arnold, Amy Donaldson "Cicadas." e-WV: The West Virginia Encyclopedia. 23 June 2023. Web. 24 July 2024.


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