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‘Cicada-geddon’: 7 Ways Facilities Managers Can Prepare for the Bug Invasion

The cicadas are coming! The cicadas are coming! Some facilities professionals will indeed experience a “cicada-geddon,” a term coined by John Cooley, a University of Connecticut cicada expert. According to The Associated Press, two broods of cicadas—13-year and 17-year varieties—will be coming together for the first time since 1803, meaning trillions of them will come out of the earth throughout the United States.

According to USA Today, the cicadas are expected to impact at least 16 states, including Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Wisconsin, and Virginia.

Invasion or Famine?

Just 10 years ago, cicadas mutated to an uncontrollable size after being sprayed with chemicals that were mistaken for pesticides, prompting residents to fight back before the world became overrun. But this didn’t happen in real life, of course. It was the storyline for the 2014 low-budget (it only cost $6,000 to make!) 45-minute sci-fi flick “Invasion of the Killer Cicadas.”

Rest assured, the “cicada-geddon” doesn’t mean cicadas are expected to take over. Whew! And unlike what President Thomas Jefferson thought in 1803, the time of their last historic emergence, cicadas aren’t like locusts, which have been known to wipe out crops and cause famine.

Stephanie Adams, The Morton Arboretum’s plant healthcare leader, provides further reassurance, explaining that “while their noise and presence on sidewalks can be a nuisance, cicadas are not dangerous to people or a threat to healthy mature trees and shrubs.”  

How Are These Different from Annual Cicadas?

While many facilities professionals have dealt with cicadas, they’ve likely encountered the annual ones. According to FOX Weather, unlike the annual cicadas, the periodic cicadas will be a bit bigger and darker in color, with bright red eyes and orange coloring on their legs and wing veins.

As the University of Minnesota Extension explains, these periodic cicadas could crawl out from the ground with a collective song as loud as jet engines, whereas the annual cicadas have more of a high-pitched sound that resembles the hum of a power line and can be up to 1 ½ inches long with green or brown bodies and black markings.

Both varieties have four clear, fly-like wings, with one pair being longer than their abdomen.

The annual variety emerges near July and is around for most of the summer, but the periodic cicadas are only expected to stick around until July.

Fortunately, says they’re just “nuisance pests” and won’t bite or sting, but USA Today warns they have prickly feet that can poke your skin.

7 Ways Facilities Professionals Can Deal with Cicadas

There are seven ways you can deal with these little critters so they don’t become a menace to your facilities and surrounding grounds.

1. Artificial Lighting

Consider reducing or shutting off lights! According to the Washington University in St. Louis, we don’t know whether this breed of cicadas will be attracted to artificial light, but other types of cicadas are, which is a problem for properties with multiple large buildings that have artificial light, outdoor sidewalks with lighting, and large lit parking lots, such as educational, medical, and governmental campuses, as well as town centers.

2. Safeguard Trees

Your smaller trees could be at risk! When female cicadas lay their eggs in slits in small trees, their twigs and branches could be damaged and wilt and break off. Trees that aren’t healthy are even more susceptible to damage. But luckily, larger trees aren’t vulnerable to cicadas. Additionally, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) doesn’t recommend spraying pesticides, as they’re generally ineffective and could harm other organisms, but the agency does advise covering small trees with mesh.

3. Protect HVAC Units

Keep your cool by keeping them out of your heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) system! Cody Powell, head of grounds, maintenance, and utilities at Miami University, told WLWT-TV Channel 5 that “what we experience, we would get large numbers of cicadas that would find themselves in situations where they would be plugging up equipment or some of the vents or screens which create problems with HVAC and how we heat, cool, and provide ventilation to our facilities,” adding that netting has been used to prevent cicadas from getting in.

4. Reduce the Noise Impact

Yes, they’re going to be noisy! A 2021 Johns Hopkins Medicine article says cicadas could worsen conditions for those who have tinnitus, an ear-ringing condition that affects more than 45 million people. And, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) notes that cicada buzzing can reach 100 decibels. After 15 minutes, sound at this level can cause hearing loss, so it’s recommended that facilities professionals limit their time outside when cicadas are the noisiest, which is afternoon through dusk on hot, sunny days. For those who must be outside, consider wearing headphones or earplugs.

5. Prevent Building Entry

You don’t want these critters inside your facilities because they’re both noisy and smelly! So, check your buildings for holes cicadas could get in through, such as around windows and doors. Put screens on windows and check for holes, and let occupants know that doors should be kept shut despite the warm weather.

6. Killing Them

To dispose of them or to eat them? The Washington Post recommends hand-picking them or washing them off plants. Also, consider using horticultural oils and soaps to kill them, as they’re safe for humans, but don’t use these directly on outdoor plantings.

However, if you plan to eat them (yum or yuck?), The Ohio State University recommends catching them in a wooded area and waiting until they leave their exoskeleton. The university adds that “cicadas and many other insects such as ants, crickets, and grasshoppers are great sources of protein, hugely abundant and earth friendly.” Bon Appetit!

7. Clean Up the Dead

Yes, they’re going to smell even worse when they’re dead! Terminix recommends using a dustpan, broom, or rake to collect them from your grounds, as well as cleaning them out of gutters, as they can block drainage. And, because they make for great fertilizer, dispose of carcasses by digging a deep hole in the ground and burying them.

While the upcoming “cicada-geddon” won’t be the end of the world, facilities professionals will still have to be prepared to deal with these critters!

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