Why You Shouldn't Kill Cicadas When They Emerge in Your State

In the next few weeks, trillions of periodical cicadas will be emerging from the ground across the eastern United States and the Midwest.

Some may be repulsed at the thought of so many loud, noisy, flying insects and a handful might even attempt to kill the bugs. But experts say there is nothing to fear, noting that the animals provide several ecological benefits.

Entomologist George Hamilton at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey, told Newsweek that people should generally leave the insects alone and that, fortunately, the cicadas do little serious damage to most trees.

"There is no need to do anything unless you're a tree fruit grower or nurseryman and even then it may not be necessary," Hamilton told Newsweek.

"Aside from the noise and the numbers that may spend a day in a person's yard, the only thing they may damage are your woody ornamentals and that can be avoided by rapping them in burlap," he added.

Hamilton noted that the cicadas can be a nuisance to some people because of the large numbers that emerge and the day-long noise they create while trying to attract mates.

Periodical cicadas are seven species from the genus Magicicada that emerge from the ground every 13 or 17 years. The cicadas that will burst from the ground in 2021 are referred to as "Brood X."

According to Hamilton, they are expected to appear in Delaware, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Maryland, Michigan, North Carolina, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia, and Washington D.C.

Hamilton said the cicadas do not pose any risk to humans or infrastructure. The insects don't sting, they don't bite, and they don't spread diseases to humans.

In addition, experts say that cicadas, generally associated with trees that shed their leaves and shrubs, provide several benefits to their native ecosystems.

They prune weak branches from mature trees, aerate the soil and once they die, their decomposing bodies serve as an important source of nutrients for growing trees, according to the National Wildlife Federation.

The cicadas also provide vast quantities of food to the numerous animals that eat insects, while also relieving predatory pressures on other insects.

John Cooley, an ecologist and evolutionary biologist from the University of Connecticut, told Newsweek: "The genus Magicicada is roughly 5 million years old, so these insects have been associated with deciduous forests for a long time."

"They are involved in nutrient cycling, and, as with any species that is an integrated part of the ecosystem, it's probably a really poor idea to consider eliminating them!"

A periodical cicada
A cicada sits on a fence in Willow Springs, Illinois. Periodical cicadas emerge from the ground every 13 or 17 years. Scott Olson/Getty Images