Plague of ‘locusts’ no scourge

That thing screaming in the trees isn’t just loud, it’s ugly. Cicadas have come out with the heat.

That chirr, chirr, chirr in the trees can mean only one thing: the dreaded Brood V cicadas, trillions of ravenous red-eyed beasts that tore their way through every leaf in the mid-Atlantic during the spring.

Except for a few things: That infamous, 17-year-cycle brood emerged mostly in June and mostly in the Ohio region. They don’t live much more than a month above ground. They weren’t as widespread as feared. They are not thought to show up this far south. And cicadas don’t do a lot of damage to plants or trees

The loud chirring in the trees across the Lowcountry is far more likely to be one or more of a host of annual broods, screamers include hundreds of species like swamp cicadas and dog-day cicadas, that like to come out en masse once it gets hot out, according to Cicada Mania. And it’s been hot.

“They are seen every year, but some years have larger broods than others.

They all have multi-year life cycles, but most aren’t coordinated as the periodical cicadas are,” said Brian Scholtens, College of Charleston entomologist.

Cicadas are the vile, big fly-looking things that quiver and vibrate when you pick them up. People who live in the country have a tradition of putting the shed skins on their nose as a joke.

Noted S.C. naturalist Rudy Mancke went to church like that once as a child, he would recount to people later.

The insects are not the locusts they commonly are thought to be. They are their own sort of critter, more closely related to garden pests like leaf hoppers, spittlebugs, white flies or mealybugs. In the Appalachian mountains they’re called jarflies.

They are just plain ugly, and the cacophony can give a homeowner the willies.

The males are looking to mate, and to attract a female they vibrate tymbals, hardened membrane in the abdomen that ring like clash cymbals. An entomologist in Ohio in 2004 measured the din at 94 decibels — loud enough that it drowned out jets overhead.

There’s a solution for that: chocolate. Chocolate-covered cicadas are low carb, gluten-free.

And delicious, according to any number of critter recipes.

Reach Bo Petersen at 843-937-5744, @bopete on twitter or Bo Petersen Reporting on Facebook.