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Get ready for ‘cicada-geddon’ this summer

Industry News, News | May 13, 2024 | By:

By Connie Lannan

If you are an event rental business that operates in the Midwest or parts of the South, you had better be prepared for “cicada-geddon,” the term used by some in the media to describe the arrival this summer of two broods of cicadas — Brood XIX, which arrives every 13 years, and Brood XIII, which arrives every 17 years. This will be the largest influx of cicadas at one time in more than 200 years.

So, what’s the big deal for event rental operators? Well, these locust-like insects, which emerge from the ground, might be uninvited and annoying guests at your clients’ outdoor events.

Cicadas can be found throughout the Midwest and in Southern states. The New York Times interviewed Gene Kritsky, a retired professor of biology at Mount St. Joseph University in Cincinnati, and the author of several books on cicadas. According to the article, he said:

“The first wave of cicadas will emerge in northern Louisiana, southern Arkansas, Alabama, Mississippi, northern Georgia and up into western South Carolina. Then they’ll surface in central South Carolina, eastern Tennessee and northern Arkansas, followed by southern Missouri, southern Illinois and western Kentucky. Finally, the cicadas will appear throughout central and northern Missouri and Illinois, northwestern Indiana, southern Wisconsin and eastern Iowa.”

We hiked Shortoff Mountain in May 2017, just as the Brood VI cicadas were filling the trees with their somewhat eerie sound and bumbling flights.

Once the cicadas emerge, they take over trees. The males sing their high-pitched mating sound — which, collectively, can be as loud as a jet engine — as a way to attract their female counterparts. The females fly in a flurry toward the loud buzzing, mate and lay their eggs. Eventually, they shed their exoskeletons, making the ground crunchy.

Laurie Julcher, CERP, sales and operations manager for the event department at House of Rental, Skokie, Ill., has been in the event rental business for 34 years and is very familiar with these insects, although she’s never seen two broods arrive at the same time.

“I have done my research,” she says. “Northern Illinois is going to have mostly the 17-year cicadas, and central and southern Illinois will have the 13-year. But then you have your annual cicadas. Will there be a crossover between the two in northern and southern Illinois in some areas? Sure, in some areas,” she says, adding, “There will be some areas where the cicadas will be ridiculous — areas with a lot of older, mature trees and areas close to floodplains.”

Julcher says cicadas prefer specific types of trees — oak, maple, willow, ash and fruit. If a property has a lot of trees, they may have an issue. “In the Skokie area, we have a lot of floodplains. They will start to come out once the ground temperature is 65 degrees. They are most active and the noisiest in late morning through sunset,” she adds.

For Julcher, it’s not just the loud buzzing and flying, and then the shedding of the skin that are the most annoying distractions. “The bigger issue is when they start to die. It is later in the summer — mid-July through August time frame — when the adults start to die and you get into the real crunchies. It’s gross,” she says.

Even as unpleasant and distracting as all those elements may be, “I don’t see the cicadas causing issues with tent rentals. People will still want to have events outside,” Julcher says.

That is where the event rental professional needs to inform their clients and staff of the issues and look at ways to mitigate the impact. “We need to offer solutions,” she says, such as:

Before the event is even planned, check the site on Google Earth: “If there are not a lot of trees, you don’t have to worry. If the yard or site is backed up by a forest preserve and there are trees on three sides of the property, you will probably have issues. Checking it out on Google Earth will help give you, as a professional, insight for how to guide your customer,” Julcher says.

Put up sidewalls on the tent: “You can’t keep them out 100 percent, but sidewalls on the tent will cut down on having them fly through and land on the plates and the guests,” she says. “Push the white mesh sidewalls. That will keep them out and still allow air flow. If you don’t have mesh sidewalls, go with clear or windowed sidewalls. Still recommend that the event be enclosed, especially in areas that are seeing a high influx of the cicadas. Instead of having cocktails outside of the tent, think about moving that part of the event in the tent, depending on the time and where the event is located.”

Add air conditioning: “Unfortunately, the breezes from fans don’t really deter the cicadas, but they help circulate the air in an enclosed tent. I see higher-end events having enclosed tents with air conditioning,” she says.

Suggest flooring: “If it is a nicer event, such as a wedding, rehearsal dinner, an upscale graduation or anniversary party, you might want to suggest flooring. For a more casual party, get out your blower and blow them away. A lawn mower will pick up some of it, too,” Julcher says, adding that “between cutting the grass and setting up the party, pull out your blowers.”

Recommend repellents: “There are some essential oils that help deter cicadas. They don’t like the smell of eucalyptus, peppermint and vinegar. Suggest buying some peppermint or eucalyptus candles, or combine essential oils with water and spray your area. Those are some natural things that can help. If your client uses a landscaper, consult with that person to see whether there are any other sprays that can be used,” she says.

It’s not just your clients you need to be talking with, either. “Tent installers have to understand that when they are installing, the males are busy — nice and loud. The females are attracted to loud noises. Installers with stake drivers, sledgehammers or other loud equipment may find that they are bombarded with female cicadas. They won’t hurt you, but they are big. You have to prepare your staff,” Julcher says.

The bottom line is that event rental operators need to talk with their clients and staff to share what they might be dealing with from Mother Nature this summer.

“You need to be the professional and remind them about the cicadas. Share the time frame when the cicadas are most active and the loudest. Once it gets closer to their event date, ask whether they want to enclose their tent or change from no flooring to flooring. Remind them to take all of this into consideration, but don’t get overzealous about cicadas. Not every event will be affected by them. Offer options and be positive,” she says.

This article was originally published at Reprinted with permission. All rights reserved.

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