Cicadas are clumsy flyers that travel only short distances.  To figure out whether you should expect Brood XIII periodical cicadas in your neighborhood this year, look back to 2007.  If none existed then, they won't be there now either.  Credit: V. Blaine
Cicadas are clumsy flyers that travel only short distances. To figure out whether you should expect Brood XIII periodical cicadas in your neighborhood this year, look back to 2007. If none existed then, they won't be there now either. Credit: V. Blaine

Good Natured: History of Periodical Cicadas Will Repeat Itself

Pam Otto, Outreach Ambassador for St. Charles Park District 4/30/2024 6:00AM

Perhaps you've heard the adage, “Never let the truth get in the way of a good story."​

That, my friends, has been the struggle this week here at Good Natured Headquarters.

I sooo want to be able to spin a good story about the coming emergence of Brood XIII, the group of periodical cicadas we have here in northern Illinois. I want to be able to use the same hoopla you've probably been hearing on television, or reading in the newspaper or online.

“Billions of cicadas are coming!" was one TV news station's gleeful proclamation, before going on to report how the noise will be deafening—as loud as chainsaws!—and that the streets and sidewalks will be paved with cicadas as the event progresses.

Other sources are using words like invasion and infestation, with some going so far as to proclaim a Cicada-pocalypse or Cicada-geddon.

Oh how I wish I could be churning out new words like that, in gleeful anticipation of the coming hordes. But I just can't.

Instead, I'm going share a truth that might be disappointing for some, while providing relief for others: Not everyone is going to be a part of the coming Cicada-palooza.

Out here in the far western suburbs, a combination of factors that include agriculture and large-scale development, which necessitated the removal of trees, have also caused the removal of a good deal of our periodical cicadas.

Remember, these are insects that spend 17 years underneath the ground, feeding on fluids in tree roots. While they're out of sight and out of mind, quietly sucking on sap, our modern world crashes forward with housing subdivisions, retail outlets, industrial complexes—all the sorts of things our economy and lifestyles demand. The trees that supported the cicada population disappear and, with them, the cicadas go too.

My friend Lorayne grew up in Geneva and vividly remembers the 1956 cicada emergence. “Pam they were terrible! Just terrible!" she told me recently, recalling how she dreaded walking to school and having cicadas get in her hair and crunch underfoot.

As we talked of that hair-raising experience, another recollection popped up--that of the majestic American elms that used to form graceful arches over Geneva's streets. “They were just beautiful," Lorayne remembered fondly.

Yet like the profusion of cicadas, those elm trees are now just memories. Dutch elm disease swept through the region in the late 1950s and early 1960s, killing virtually every elm tree it infected.

Did the removal of Ulmus americana from the cicadas' menu of trees have an effect on the insects' population?

I'm not sure.

The only reference to DED and cicadas I could find was in a May 1973 article in the Field Museum Bulletin. Authored by Henry Dybas, the museum's insect division curator and an absolute legend in the world of periodical cicada study, wrote, “Shortly after our original census and study in 1956, Dutch Elm Disease entered this (Chicago) area and began to kill off the elms, which were the dominant trees in the floodplain sites. The nymphs from the 1956 emergence which were then feeding on the rootlets of those trees were very small when the trees began to die, so it will be interesting to see what end effect this disaster has had on the cicada population. Such a disaster is comparable to other naturally occurring phenomena like forest fires, tornadoes, land slides, and so forth, and most natural populations have had to evolve the ability to cope with them."

Geneva and most other towns affected by DED planted new trees in place of the parkway elms they had to remove. And while I don't have much history, oral or written, about the 1973 and 1990 cicada emergences in Geneva, I do know some of that population persisted in 2007. Though much reduced, I was still able to see some, and hear some, along the Third Street shopping district.

(Were they enough to satisfy my cicada yearnings? Well, no. I eventually ended up driving over to Lake Ellyn in Glen Ellyn to get my 2007 cicada fix.)

Hoping against hope that maybe there might be a way to still incorporate some cicada superlatives into this week's piece, I contacted local naturalist Carl Strang, a leading expert on singing insects.

Alas, his research matched my memories. His 2007 surveys indicated a major dip in cicada numbers in western DuPage County, which he attributes to forests and woodlands being cut down for agriculture.

“I remember spending a little time in Kane County, and one day followed the Fox River all the way to its junction with the Illinois River," he wrote in an email. “At the time I was impressed, as you were, by the lack of periodical cicadas to the west."

He added, “Looking back at my notes, I see that I often extended my bike riding workouts along the Fox River between south Elgin and Aurora that year, and was surprised that I wasn't hearing even single cicadas."

Sometimes when observing the natural world, we need to remind ourselves that seeing none of what we set out to find is important data too. Ain't that the truth!

Next week: We'll share some fun cicada facts, bust some myths, and let you know where you can report your cicada sightings—or lack thereof—to help improve our understanding of Brood XIII.

Pam Otto is the outreach ambassador for the St. Charles Park District. She can be reached at


Tags: Animals Around Town Community Community Involvement Education Environment Families Kane County Forest Preserve District Tourism Weather Why Kane Geneva
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