Cicadas incoming: Billions of insects emerging for monthlong mating ritual
NBC News — Ready or not, Brood X has arrived.
Billions of cicadas are emerging from their underground habitats for the first time in 17 years to take part in a noisy, monthlong mating ritual.
Cicada sightings have already been reported in Virginia, Maryland, and Georgia. Warm weather on the East Coast could bring out the insects in big numbers this week.
“It’s such a unique experience because they really take over for a month or so,” said John Cooley, an entomologist at the University of Connecticut. “There may be trillions of ants around, but most of the time you don’t pay any attention to them. These are big, loud, funny-looking, charismatic and active insects, and you really can’t ignore them.”
These cicadas spend most of their life underground feeding on tree roots, before breaking the surface to look for mates.
Six species of cicadas make their home across the eastern U.S. This year’s emergence includes three species of insects that live on 17-year cycles — a group known as Brood X.
“They count the seasonal cycles to get the right year and then they wait for an evening that isn’t stormy or rainy, when the soil temperature is just right, and then out they come,” Cooley said.
Once the insects surface, they shed their exoskeletons and unfurl their winds. It takes a few days for their adult skin to harden. After that, the frenzy begins.
With mere weeks to find a mate and lay their eggs before they die, the cicadas are in a race against time. The insects emit a noisy, high-pitched mating song that can reach up to 100 decibels, roughly equivalent to a motorcycle or jackhammer, Cooley said.
Although the insects are noisy, they’re not harmful to humans or pets.
“They’re not poisonous, but you wouldn’t want your dog to gorge on them,” he said.
The emergence of billions — even trillions — of noisy winged insects may fill some people with dread and anxiety, Cooley hopes people will enjoy and appreciate the experience.
“This is such an interesting and rare phenomenon,” he said. “Enjoy it while it’s out and remember that it’s not going to happen for another 17 years.”
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