Copperheads love cicadas. Will the insect invasion mean more snakes out in SC? Biologists weigh in

Some viral videos are spiraling through social media saying watch your step, more copperheads will be slithering around seeking out a meal of cicadas.

That’s basically not true, although cicadas are like fast food to copperheads, plentiful and easy to get. Some say they taste like asparagus, which is definitely not fast food.

Copperheads just hang around an oak tree as the cicadas come up from the ground and molt. Yum.

One of the videos making the rounds comes from outside St. Louis, where a neighborhood association proclaimed “Keep your children and pets away from trees and shrubs.”

Other people have posted photos of snacking copperheads.

Retired Clemson professor and cicada expert Eric Benson said there’s no good data to show that the copperhead population actually increases during a cicada invasion. Counts before and after and a control group would need to be done.

Science, not social media.

Benson pointed to an article in Texas Parks and Wildlife by wildlife biologist Andy Gluesenkamp that says copperheads may congregate in large groups for the easy meal but they are not coming from great distances. They’re the ones that are normally there.

Gluesenkamp said any feeding activity from multiple snakes is probably caused by lots of defenseless cicadas and the ability to ambush them around large trees with relatively open understory. Rare, but it does happen, wildlife biologists say.

The situation is heightened this year with the emergence of Brood XIX in the South and XIII in the Midwest, a rare occurrence for two periodicals to emerge at the same time. XIX spends 13 years underground eating tree roots and XIII 17 years.

The sheer number of Brood XIX has astounded people. Last week when The State asked for photos and stories, many sent in photos of shed skin of hundreds of cicadas around the base of trees and hanging on tree bark and bushes.

One reader said it sounded like the Twilight Zone at her house.

There are also cicadas that emerge every year in South Carolina.

“Congregations of cicada-feeding copperheads are an annual occurrence at some sites, and snakes may follow a regular pattern night after night,” Gluesenkamp wrote.

They prefer nymph cicadas before their exoskeletons harden. Protein rich and fatty.

Cicadas began to emerge in South Carolina in mid-April and likely will be around until June or so. The so-called singing they do is the males seeking out mates. In Newberry County, people called 911 alarmed at the sound.

The females deposit her eggs into tree bark and when hatched the newborns will go back underground. The adults will die. The cycle begins anew.