Why Billions of Cicadas Are About to Emerge After 17 years

For the first time in 17 years, one of the largest broods of cicadas is about to swarm the Midwestern and Northeastern United States—here’s what you need to know.
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Cicadas species fall into two broad groups: annual that can be seen every year, and periodical that emerge in cycles that last 13 or 17 years. That’s not to say a certain species can only be spotted every 13 or 17 years, because the same species can have multiple broods that emerge in different years across different geographical regions.

There are 15 brood cycles and the one set to emerge this year is one of the largest: brood X. Billions will climb out of their little underground burrows and shriek their little hearts out when it’s warm enough to do so. Before emerging, periodical cicadas spend all those years underground in the nymph stage of their life cycle, drinking the liquids from plant roots.

How they coordinate coming out all together is anyone’s guess. It’s possible changes in the root’s fluid clue them in on how much time has passed, or their bodies tick off freeze-and-thaw cycles. Either way they can reliably count down 13 or 17 years, depending on the species.

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Read More:

Brood X Cicadas Could Cause a Bird Baby Boom
They will coat the limbs and leaves of trees, sing, mate, lay eggs and then die. Uneaten corpses and body parts will add nutrients to the soil, bolstering the ecosystem and its denizens long after the boisterous insects disappear. But the famous periodicity of cicada broods can set some predators up for feast-then-famine scenarios—population booms followed by food insecurity and then sudden drops in numbers.

Go Back In Time To The Last Appearance Of The Brood X Cicada
Ugh. 2004 was the last time these red-eyed, 1-to-2-inch-long bugs with the deafening clatter showed up. That’s when NPR’s Peter Breslow and Jessica Goldstein turned on a tape recorder as their twin daughters, Eden and Danielle, listened to the cicadas from a splash pool in their backyard.

How to Survive Our Wet, Hot, Cicada Summer
Get involved: Kritsky said that apps like Cicada Safari, which was designed by his university, are a great way to get involved this summer. Using this app, adults and children alike can snap photos or record videos of cicadas to help scientists collect data of their prevalence in different areas. Kritsky says that as the brood emerges people can even watch it “live” on the app.

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