- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 13, 2004

Area retailers are hoping to turn cicadas into big bug business as the red-eyed insects climb their way out of the ground from their 17-year hibernation.

The small, black bugs, which do not sting or bite and are harmless to humans, are digging out of the dirt this week to begin a frantic mating ritual that will end with millions of cicada carcasses littering yards, sidewalks and streets.

As many as 1.5 million Brood X cicadas will cover each acre as the insects get into full swing of their infestation, which will last until July, according to entomologists. The harmless but annoying bugs will hit more than a dozen states and the District of Columbia, from as far south as Georgia to southern New York and as far west as Illinois.

Hardware and garden stores are trying to capitalize on homeowners’ fears about how to save their yards and spare their ears from the noisy, egg-laying critters.

About 80 Home Depot stores in the Mid-Atlantic, mainly in the Washington, Baltimore and Philadelphia markets, today are finishing up displays claiming to be consumers’ one-stop shop for getting rid of the bugs.

The displays feature insecticides, netting for small trees, screens for ponds and pools, ear plugs to guard against the cicada’s screeching mating call and clean-up items. Cicadas shed their skins after they emerge and die after mating and laying eggs, leaving crunchy corpses and skins.

It’s the first kind of campaigning Home Depot has done for cicada season, said Jim Emge, district manager for seven stores in the Baltimore area.

But stores are seeing a high demand for the products, especially insecticides that don’t have traditionally high sales this time of year, Mr. Emge said. He would not give exact sales numbers.

“We didn’t know what to expect, but we are prepared” with backup inventory that will last until the beginning of July, he said.

Insecticides for cicadas include Sevin 80WSP, Sevin SL and TalstarOne.

Other items, like Homelite Consumer Products’ outdoor vacuum, blower and mulching machine, also are expected to sell better this month at Home Depot.

Homelite Consumer Products, an Anderson, S.C., division of Hong Kong power tool company TechTronics Industries Co. Ltd., upped its May forecast for the Vac Attack II to be the third-largest sales month this year, said marketing director Steve Moore.

“This month is looking pretty successful,” though not as profitable as before a hurricane, Mr. Moore said.

Local Lowe’s Home Improvement Warehouse stores are promoting two cicada-fighting products: a netting and a cicada repellant for trees and shrubs, said spokeswoman Jennifer Smith.

Ms. Smith would not discuss any sales or demand for products, saying the company is in a regulatory “quiet period” until it releases its quarterly results Monday.

American Plant Food Co., a Bethesda plant retailer, is seeing a surge in sales for tree nets. Mitch Baker, a horticulturist at the company’s two stores, said homeowners have about four more days to protect their trees before the real damage begins.

Cicadas mate for about one week to 10 days when they emerge, said Michael Raupp, a University of Maryland professor and entomologist. The female cicadas cause most of the tree damage by gouging the bark of some 200 kinds of trees to lay eggs, he said.

Mr. Raupp stressed that most of that damage will happen on smaller and younger plants, but not flowers or conifer trees. Trees that are at risk include maples, redbuds, dogwoods and chestnuts.

A good rule of thumb is to put up nets on trees that are less than six feet tall, Mr. Raupp said, discouraging the use of pesticides.

The Rockville office of Bartlett Tree Experts, a Stamford, Conn., company, sent out about 3,000 letters to its customers in April, hoping to capture business from residents trying to protect trees from the cicada onslaught, said arborist Tim Zastrow.

So far, about 120 customers have requested to have netting put up on trees, a higher number than in 1987 when cicadas last emerged. “Virtually no one took any preventative measures then,” he said.

Car washes also are stocking up on bug-removal products. Government officials have warned residents to regularly wash cicada guts off cars because it will ruin paint finishes.

Even the tourism industry is getting in on the action.

Ocean City, Md., officials are touting the beach resort as a cicada-free vacation. The $160,000 radio and print ad campaign targets audiences in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia.

Maryland’s Eastern Shore and southern parts of the state will be spared from the bugs, while only the northern parts of Virginia are expected to be infested.

Not all landscaping companies are seeing a jump in business. Charlie Bowers, president of Silver Spring landscaping company Garden Gate Landscaping Inc., said about five homeowners have requested preventative work for the cicadas.

“It’s not really an issue to them,” Mr. Bowers said, adding that he did not expect the cicadas to negatively or positively affect his business.

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