Time to bust some misunderstood details insect


Paul Cappiello, Yew Dell Botanical Garden

Published 5:10 am ET June 4, 2021 | Updated at 5:11 PM ET on June 4, 2021


The Yew Dell Botanical Gardens kindergarten director picked a cicada from a blade of grass and put it in his mouth.

Louisville Courier Journal

It doesn’t often happen that I cover the same subject in consecutive columns, but cicadas seem to be the gift that always passes on. The overwhelming influx of email questions and comments on this topic seems to suggest that there is more need for discussion. For this follow-up edition, I thought it would be good to spend a little time separating fact from fiction.

First, let me immediately address a subject that seems to have been completely overlooked by the die-hard investigative journalists in our beautiful country. You may have noticed that just as the vicious little Brood Xers emerged from the ground to devastate our daily lives, officially sanctioned government sources stopped referring to unidentified flying objects – they are all now referring to unidentified aerial phenomena.


Of course, this could be a fairly simple change in accepted scientific terminology, but is one really wondering when the time has come? In addition, cicadas are not the most elegant creatures in the sky. To name what they fly is really a stretch. When they actually accomplish something, it’s usually more of an accident than an intentional thing. They are certainly airy. Its emergence is certainly a phenomenon, isn’t it?

And then everyone out there tells us we should eat them … that they are nutritious and taste like asparagus (serious note from the editors – attention shellfish allergy sufferers!). I don’t know about you, but all that comes from a government so desperate it will try to get you to eat an unknown thing by telling you it tastes like an asparagus spear … I don’t know what it is.

Area 51, we are coming!

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Then there’s the whole thing about ground cicada tunnels which are good for aerating your soil. Now we all know that Kentucky soil isn’t the most ventilated material on the planet. It actually bears a striking resemblance to Play-Doh, but without the benefit of the playful colors. And if there is one thing that would give most of our garden plants a boost, it would be better aeration of the soil. Seems to be good so far.

But let me see if I got this right Mother Nature has developed a system in which an entire species of insect lives underground for 17 years. Then one day the mothership beamed a message to all of the little red-eyed guys underground telling them it was time to stop partying and get to work.

Then all 300 million of them are digging 1/2-inch small tunnels to the surface of the soil at the same time so the bugs pop out of the ground and spend no more than a few days terrorizing young children and plugging gutters. Then, after about two thunderstorms, those little tunnels fill up again with the same old filth, bringing the ground back to Play Doh conditions for another 17 years.

You know, the more I think about it, the more I write about this particular subject, the more interesting it actually seems. I think the final piece of this amazing evolutionary system extends into the development of these sandals with long spikes to strap on to your feet and to walk around the garden like Frankenstein to “aerate” your lawn. I think you can actually buy them online at theresoneborneveryminute.com …

Finally, we come to the idea that the egg-laying of cicadas provides the necessary pruning that is essential for the flowering and fruiting of trees and ultimately for the conservation of tree species. Here mother nature is there again. She is a clever muse.

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Steve York estimates that millions of cicadas have sprung up around his house on Zorn Avenue. May 19, 2021 (Photo: Alton Strupp / Kurierjournal)

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So a quick look back:

1) Cicadas emerge from the ground

2) They molt, develop wings and the ability to fly

3) The males soar to the treetops and make exuberant advances to attract any old red-eyed female

4) If not. 3 is fine, the females lay their eggs in a small slot in a pencil-thick branch

5) The little cicada hatchlings fall to the ground, leaving a slightly damaged little tree trunk that will likely break off in the wind at some point later in the year. This is the “necessary trimming” bit.

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A cicada passes an exoskeleton. Via info on Wikipedia: “The beetles live most of their lives as nymphs underground at depths of up to about 2.40 m. Nymphs have strong forelegs to dig and dig chambers in the immediate vicinity of roots where they can find themselves feed on xylem sap. In humid habitats, larger species build aboveground mud towers to ventilate their burrows. In the final nymph stage, they build an exit tunnel to the surface and emerge again. Then they molt and hatch as adults. ” (Photo: Matt Stone / Kurierjournal)

When Mother Nature sat down 350 million years ago to design trees and the systems that would allow these tree species to thrive, did she come up with that? I mean, I can perfectly understand that trees cannot survive without the intervention of the omniscient hand of the human gardener. I mean, it must have been hard enough for her to survive 349.8 million years without the help of my Felco # 6 secateurs.

But to ask for that 17 year old dance with the devil … that just seems a little too far-fetched.

I think I’ll take my chance with the asparagus flavored UAPs!

Paul Cappiello is Executive Director at Yew Dell Botanical Gardens, 6220 Old Lagrange Road, yewdellgardens.org

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