The Cicadas Are Coming!

If you were around in 2004, you probably remember the loud songs of the cicada emanating from most of the trees on your property. You probably had a cicada or two clinging to your clothes or swatted a few away as they haphazardly flew around. If you have never met a cicada, there’s nothing to worry about, just another wonder of nature to behold. These lumbering creatures do not sting or bite or cause disease. They burst forth from underground with all the confidence and energy of teenagers and must accomplish in a very short time what it takes us decades to do.

The periodical cicada spends most of its life underground, emerging after 13 or 17 years (depending on the species) to transform, reproduce and ultimately die over the space of just a few days. Huge populations of these insects have synced up to emerge within the same window of time to give them the best chance of successfully finding a mate and producing young before they are eaten by predators or expire naturally. These populations are called broods, and one of the largest—Brood X—is set to emerge in late May or early June this year.

Once the soil reaches about 64 degrees Fahrenheit at a depth of 12-18 inches, the emergence of the cicadas will be triggered. Male cicadas will emerge first, followed by females a few days later. Females can be identified by their pointed abdomen and sheathed ovipositor, the organ they use to lay eggs.

Once they leave the ground, the cicadas will shed their shells and develop wings, allowing them to fly around and locate fresh hardwood trees and shrubs. After they’ve found their spot, the cicadas will mate and lay eggs at the end of branches. Newly hatched cicadas will then chew through the branch tips, causing them to fall off, carrying the nymphs (young insects) back down into the soil where they burrow 6- 18 inches down and will spend the next 17 years. Brood X will next emerge in 2038.

Scientists are interested in determining if climate change has impacted the cicada. Will warmer temperatures cause them to arrive sooner than expected? Will there be as many of them as in years past? You can help to answer these questions by engaging in a little citizen science. Phone apps like Cicada Safari and iNaturalist, can be used to share your observations. The data collected will help to populate a map which can guide scientists in answering the questions posed above.


Photo credit: Pixabay