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Brood X cicadas are on their way out, and they're leaving behind a gift

Posted at 6:07 AM, Jun 22, 2021

CINCINNATI — The Brood X cicadas are finally on their way out across much of the East Coast and Midwest. But before they go, they're leaving behind a gift for those who put up with them.

Cicada carcasses are full of nutrients that are beneficial to plants, especially trees. Their bodies act as a natural fertilizer and will help nourish vegetation. The plants won't bloom more or look greener, but they will be properly nourished.

"All those nutrients in the millions of cicadas that we saw will go into the soil," said Dr. Gene Kritsky, the dean of behavioral and natural sciences at Mount St. Joseph University near Cincinnati. "Especially for those trees where they’ve clustered at the base of a tree and you just see mounds of these things."

However, cicada carcasses don't decompose easily. They'll stick around for a while, and they eventually begin to smell.

Kritsky has a solution for that, though.

"If you don’t like the looks of them, one thing you can do is literally rake them away from the tree — not far away — and then when you mow, provided you have a mulching mower, that will sort of break up the smaller bits," Kritsky said. "That will hasten the decline and the smell right away.”

Kritsky said the cicada life-cycle has already started over.

Female cicadas laid their eggs in tree branches, and soon some leaves will turn brown and fall from trees. Then, cicada nymphs will hatch and fall into the soil, looking like dust falling from a tree.

The nymphs will live underground for 17 years and re-emerge in 2038.

This story was originally published by Sina Gebre-Ab on Scripps station WCPO in Cincinnati.