McLean student launches cicada clean-up and protection business

A teenager born when the Brood X cicadas last emerged is now running a business to help people handle these creatures’ unusual life cycles.

With her older brother’s help, McLean High School student Michelle Martinkov started Cicada Defender to sell netting and other products and services to assist people during the cicada emergence and mating season, which happens on this magnitude only once every 17 years.

Michelle notes her parents, who immigrated to the U.S., always joked that she was a cicada baby, telling her stories of trillions of cicadas emerging seemingly overnight.

“For 17 years I have been excitedly waiting to finally experience what my parents were talking about,” she told Tysons Reporter.

She started the business with help from friends and other workers, setting up protective nets for cicadas that lay eggs on vulnerable young trees and providing clean-up services for exoskeletons left behind. 

Cicadas shed their exoskeletons, a protective covering, before they take flight. They live above ground for only a few weeks to fly and mate before they die off. The buzzing that has filled the Fairfax County air over the past couple of weeks are calls to signal their availability to potential mates.

Eggs deposited on trees will hatch after about six weeks, fall to the ground, and then burrow into the soil, remaining underground for another 17-year cycle.

“I started Cicada Defender to learn about entrepreneurship and e-commerce and to spread awareness about Brood X,” Michelle said. “My goal with Cicada Defender is to see how many homes/businesses we can help and how much of our online presence we can expand over the next two months of the emergence.”

The Environmental Protection Agency advises against using pesticides, saying they don’t help stop the massive numbers of insects that will continue to come and could harm people and other insects and animals that eat cicadas, including pets.

In addition, cicadas themselves don’t pose any danger to people and, in fact, play an important environmental role. Along with providing fodder for animals like birds, they can aerate lawns, improve water filtration in the ground, and add nutrients to the soil as they decompose, the EPA notes.

While they can damage young trees, the insects can’t harm larger, more established trees, and they will not eat leaves, flowers, fruits, or garden produce, making it unnecessary to cover them, according to the EPA.

Michelle says Cicada Defender uses a “highly sustainable” process with no pesticides or heavy machinery.

“All we use is netting, shovels, trash bags, buckets, and occasionally a ladder when necessary,” she said.

She hopes to help the community by educating them about cicadas and providing some support through the experience.

“Something we are extremely proud of is that we intend to donate a portion of our proceeds to local plant nurseries,” Michelle said. “We feel this gives back to our community and provides a business a greater sense of purpose.”

Photo courtesy Judy Gallagher/Flickr

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