Will Cicadas Cause More Snakes? Copperheads?

Written by AZ Animals Staff
Published: May 15, 2021
Written by AZ Animals Staff
Published: May 15, 2021


Cicada Brood X is expected to emerge from the ground in 2021 in 15 states across the eastern and central United States. One of the many concerns for residents and wildlife enthusiasts alike is whether the extra presence of cicadas will increase local snake populations. Whether you’re worried about avoiding snake bites or simply curious about the impacts of such an event on the local ecosystem, it’s hard to deny that the upcoming cicada emergence is some of the most exciting environmental news of the year.

And one question we’re getting asked a lot right now is whether cicadas bring more copperheads. Read on to discover!

Preparing for an Abundant Cicada Population

The cicada population that emerging from the ground this year is estimated to be in the billions. This is a truly staggering number of insects, so it’s no surprise that tourists from around the country are making plans to witness this amazing event that only happens once every 17 years.

Humans aren’t the only observers who are excited about the cicada emergence. Local carnivores and omnivores, from birds to moles to snakes to foxes, almost always dine well during cicada season. Because of this, locals often notice an apparent increase in animal populations, especially around the areas where the cicadas are expected to appear. Without the ability to read a news bulletin, it can only be assumed that these predators can hear the cicadas coming to life beneath the Earth’s surface.

Why Cicadas Are Such Easy Prey

Will Cicadas Cause More Snakes
Cicada molting on a tree. When Cicadas ae busy molting, they are extremely vulnerable to attacks from predators.

Cicadas are peaceful creatures with no natural defenses. When they first emerge from the ground, they are often disoriented and vulnerable. After crawling onto the surface, the cicada nymph crawls to a nearby tree and begins the molting process. Cicadas are completely immobile during molting, making them incredibly easy prey. If they make it through molting, they’ll turn into an adult cicada and gain the ability to fly.

Cicadas almost always emerge in massive numbers. There’s something magical about billions of bug crawling out of the earth, molting, then immediately flying into the air. However, because their numbers are so high, the presence of predators is important to ensure a limited impact on the environment. Cicadas get caught at all points of their short above-surface life cycle, which lasts for about 6 weeks.

The survival tactic that the cicada uses to survive this high carnivore presence is known as predator sedation. Essentially, the cicadas emerge from the ground in such high numbers that no matter how many are consumed by local predators, plenty will survive to create a next generation. Because the cicadas only live above the surface for a few short weeks, it’s not surprising that they use such a self-sacrificing tactic to ensure their young’s success.

During their life cycle, cicadas lay eggs on as many plant surfaces as they can. Eggs hatch 6 weeks after they are laid. The baby cicadas then burrow into the ground, look for roots to eat from, and immediately begin their 17-year underground lives. Every clutch contains around 600 eggs, meaning that there are almost plenty of cicadas to start the next generation.

Will There Be More Copperheads During Cicada Season?

One environmental myth that gets repeated often is that there are more snakes around during cicada season. While it’s true that the presence of such easy prey is incredibly attractive to predators, many people question whether or not the snake population is actually higher during these events.

The real truth is that cicada emergence draws preexisting snakes out of hiding. Copperhead snakes live all throughout the Pennsylvania forests; you just don’t usually notice them because they are so good at keeping themselves from sight. Snake populations are already difficult to estimate, but there seems to be no reason to believe that more snakes would appear during this event. Any snakes that are found basking on rocks or snapping up cicadas have simply crawled out of their dens for this momentous occasion.

Another theory that goes around is that snakes travel across great distances to reach cicada spawning grounds. Researchers have confirmed that copperheads will travel up to a mile from their normal habitat to attend the cicada feast. However, distances greater than this are too dangerous for normal copperhead travel.

How Cicadas Increase Snake’s Chance of Survival

Will Cicadas Cause More Snakes
Large copperhead snake, a snake native to the United States, will readily eat Cicadas.

Only snakes that are already present are capable of attending a cicada feast. However, one of the many effects of cicada season is that any snake populations that were able to enjoy the cicada harvest will likely survive longer and reproduce in greater numbers. Many young snakes are usually born in the year following a cicada emergence. This population burst will last until resources start to dwindle and a natural decline begins.

Many observers like to note that copperhead snakes are incredibly venomous and talented hunters that don’t necessarily need to eat cicadas to survive. However, with such an abundant source of delicious food available, these high-end predators seem to have no problem relaxing and dining with abandon. Photographers love to snap pictures of copperheads swallowing whole cicadas at once.

Protecting Yourself from Snakes While Cicada Watching

If you’re heading out into the woods to observe cicadas and take photos, you should take care to make sure you don’t accidentally cross paths with a startled copperhead. Here are a few tips to ensure that you stay safe during your summer adventure:

  • Stay at least 10 feet away from copperheads. Once you get closer, you risk an actual bite.
  • Walk slowly when approaching rocks, trees, and other areas where a copperhead might be lurking. Startling these snakes is the easiest way to get bitten.
  • Wear tall shoes made from leather or another thick material. Even if you get nipped, the shoe should keep you safe.
  • If you get bitten, call 911 immediately and stop moving to make sure the venom doesn’t spread.

Cicada emergence is an amazing spectacle, and seeing the snakes enjoy the fun makes it that much better. This year, take a moment to notice both the magical bug emergence and the many animals who are enjoying this rare but delicious bounty.

Cicada Brood X News & Information

Brood X is currently (spring 2021) emerging on the east coast of the United States. More information and coverage can be found here!

Next Up: Can Dogs Eat Cicadas?

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