Gaithersburg, MD

Lady Cicada Razor Appendages Leave Maryland Parting Gift

Heather Jauquet

Open in 2038
Evidence of cicada flagging on a treeHeather Jauquet/Author

Although we no longer hear the siren songs of cicada mating season in Maryland, lady cicadas and their razor bottoms have left us with a parting gift. If you look around your neighborhood, you’ll be able to find them. All you have to do is look up into the trees.

We didn’t see too many cicadas in my part of Gaithersburg, but we certainly heard their eerie pulsating hum. However, go into Baltimore, and you were hard-pressed to take a step without bumping into one or having one fly into your car.

Even though we didn’t see them in Gaithersburg, they have certainly left their mark in the neighborhood before leaving us for another 17 years.

Cicadas, the gift that keeps on giving

Towards the end of their life cycle, after they mate, cicadas die, but not before female cicadas lay their eggs. Female cicadas look for twigs with a diameter of a pencil and use them to lay their eggs. Fruit trees, maples, and oaks being the preferred tree of choice for egg-laying.

According to a social media post from Blue Water Baltimore, the female cicadas make slits into the trees with their ovipositor, a tubular, dagger-like organ. Then they tuck their eggs into the slits, laying around 30 eggs into each slit. They can deposit a total of 400-600 eggs. After they lay their eggs, the female cicadas add a growth hormone that prevents the tree from healing over and crushing the eggs.

Flagging, nature’s way of pruning trees

Those random dead leaves that you see on the outermost branches of trees do not mean anything is wrong; that is where the cicadas have chosen to lay their eggs. Instead, the leaves turn brown because the slits are deep enough to prevent sap water from reaching the end of the branch. This is called flagging because the end of branches and the dead leaves look like limp flags.

While it makes the leaves turn brown and kills the end of the branch, it doesn’t kill the tree unless they are young trees. Many folks combatted the onslaught of cicadas by netting younger trees during cicada season, preserving young trees.

According to an article in Pennlive, “Cicadas seldom do any damage to bigger, mature tree branches. Even the flagging damage to newer and smaller trees usually isn’t fatal or seriously harmful.” So you can let nature take its course, and the branches will fall to the ground, or you can “prune off the dead tips and watch for the tree to send out new growth inward from where the egg-laying slits were made.”

What next?

After six to 10 weeks, When the eggs hatch, the white nymphs fall to the ground and burrow below the soil. They’ll attach to the tree roots sucking sap and feeding on the bases during their dormant period. The damage is negligible to the tree but nourishes the nymphs.

Then these periodical cicadas will re-emerge 17 years later in 2038, shed their skin, and begin the process all over again for another five to six weeks. Isn’t nature unique?

According to Erik Dihle, an arborist for the City of Baltimore, “This is nature. How often do we get to see nature here in Baltimore? Where we can see the real progress.”
Cicada wingsLiz K./Facebook

Until we meet again Brood X. See ya in 2038!

Have you seen evidence of cicada flagging in your neighborhood? Let me know in the comments where you are seeing it!

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Heather Jauquet writes articles centered around the DMV and her adventures in other local communities. Follow her to get information about Montgomery County education, government, and community news. When she's not writing, she's running. Got a story to share? Email her:

Gaithersburg, MD

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