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Garden Help Desk: Identifying and handling cicadas in your garden

By USU Extension - | Jul 2, 2022

Courtesy photo

Cicada wings are clear and lacy. Their bodies can be clearly seen through the wings.

We are hoping you can please identify this insect that we found in our yard.

Your insect is a cicada. We don’t have large populations of the famous 17-year cicadas that we hear so much about in the Eastern United States, but we do have other kinds of cicadas here.

Adult cicadas, like the one you photographed, range from 1-2 inches in size, and yes, they will buzz or click while they are active, but their populations here usually aren’t large enough to cause serious noise problems. These insects have a wide host range of trees, shrubs and occasional vines. The adults will suck sap from branches, but this is seldom harmful to the plants.

Cicada females lay their eggs in tree branches and when the eggs hatch the immature cicadas drop to the ground. They’ll spend the winter underground for at least a year or more, sucking sap from the roots of trees. Their feeding doesn’t harm the trees. Once immature cicadas near the adult stage in the spring, they leave the safety of the root zone and move up onto the tree to molt (shed their exoskeleton) one last time and emerge as adults with wings. You may find an occasional exoskeleton stuck on a tree trunk.

The only serious damage caused by cicadas is the injury caused to tree branches during the summer when female cicadas make slits in the bark to lay their eggs. Egg-laying is usually just a minor injury to the branches, but if you are in an area where there is a large population of cicadas, you may see small branches that have been damaged or killed by heavy egg-laying.

Courtesy photo

Cicada adults have protruding eyes that may be dark or brightly colored. Like all true insects, they have six legs. Their wings are held close over the body like a tent.

Cicadas are very mobile, which makes it difficult to control these insects with insecticidal sprays. Since the damage they cause is usually minimal, it’s best to tolerate them during the few weeks that they’re active in the summer.

If you’re in an area where there are active cicadas, and you have had problems with them in the past, you can protect young trees by covering them with very fine netting. You’ll need to gather and fasten the netting snugly around the trunk to prevent access to young, tender twigs and branches. You may be able to reduce future cicada populations by inspecting your trees frequently in late spring and summer and pruning out and discarding any twigs with egg-laying damage as soon as the damage is seen. If you need to do any tree planting and you’ve seen cicada damage on your trees in the past, it’s best to delay planting until late summer or early fall when cicadas aren’t active anymore.

I spotted a large (about half an inch thick) worm in my garden. As I approached, he shot through the soil at lightning speed, so I don’t think it was a regular earthworm. I’m very concerned if he was one of the dreaded Asian jumping worms. I dug around in the soil to try to find the worm but couldn’t find anything. Can you give me any kind of advice as to how to eliminate them from my soil?? 

If you’re a gardener, you’re familiar with earthworms. We see them every time we turn the soil in our gardens. They can help aerate the soil, move organic matter deeper into the soil, improve the way water moves through the soil, and work as important decomposers of organic material, making nutrients more available to plant roots. The deep-dwelling earthworms we see in our yards and gardens aren’t native to North America, but they’re generally beneficial and well-behaved in our landscapes.

Asian jumping worms are non-native too, but unlike the other earthworm species in our gardens, they’re not beneficial. These invasive worms are “dreaded” because they grow and reproduce more quickly than other earthworms, and displace beneficial soil organisms, including our common earthworms. Asian jumping worms have voracious appetites and can quickly deplete the organic matter in soil. They are active at or near the soil surface, degrading the structure and water holding capacity of the soil and damaging the roots of young plants by over-aerating and drying the soil.

Courtesy Arbor Etiquette

Cicada nymphs, like this one, don't resemble cicada adults. In the spring the nymphs will move up from the soil and onto the tree where they will mature and spend the summer actively feeding as adults.

Why are these invasive pests called jumping worms?  These worms writhe, flip, and twist rapidly when they are disturbed. Another nickname for these worms is Crazy worms because they can seem frantic and crazy when they’re uncovered.

There currently aren’t any reliable controls for Asian jumping worms, but there are research projects underway in areas where these worms are a problem and there are non-chemical gardening practices that can help to make gardening more manageable in gardens infested with Asian jumping worms.

You can rest easy for now; Asian jumping worms have been identified in several areas in the United States, but none have been reported in Utah. From your description, you could be the lucky host of a small garden snake who’ll be quietly eating insects and other small pests in your landscape. 


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