Millions of Cicadas Will Re-emerge This Year After 17 Years Underground

Photo credit: Alex Wong - Getty Images
Photo credit: Alex Wong - Getty Images

From House Beautiful

They're back and ready to make some noise! Those bulbous-eyed, noisy little critters known as cicadas, are emerging from the soil as we speak. After 17 years of underground living, millions of these bad boys are ready to stretch their wings and give Virginia, North Carolina, and West Virginia a very loud wakeup call.

Let's refresh: cicadas are known for their unique life cycle. According to National Geographic, there are over 3,000 species of this insect. While some species reappear annually (such as dog-day cicadas) others take a break for either 13 or 17 years. Many of these years spent down below are developmental years as cicadas grow from nymph to adult, but much about their time underground remains "one of the great mysteries of the insect world," according to a press release from Virginia Tech's Department of Entomology. Known as periodic cicadas, these species reside and develop in the soil for a number of years before surfacing in massive swarms. This year, Brood IX will take over parts of Southwest Virginia, North Carolina, and West Virginia, the department writes. As many as 1.5 million cicadas will span per acre in these areas. "People who live in these regions will experience a unique natural phenomenon that has not occurred in most of the area since 2003-04."

Are cicadas dangerous?

When over a million bugs spontaneously pop out of the soil at the same time, it's a pretty big deal. While these insects are generally harmless (they do not sting or bite), female cicadas can cause quite the damage to trees when laying eggs.

It all has to do with the way female cicadas lay their eggs. As Virginia Tech's Department of Entomology writes "Cicada females select pencil-width branches or vines, then implant their eggs into them using a sharp egg laying tube called an ovipositor." The nymphs will later hatch from the eggs and drop down to the soil, where they will burrow themselves and start feeding on the plants' roots. The feeding part is harmless to the tree; however, the part where the eggs are implanted into the branches can cause splits and withers in the tree. Cicada females have the potential to stunt a tree's growth or kill it completely, just by laying their eggs. For orchard owners, vineyard managers, or anyone who grows trees, the emergence of cicadas in their area can be deleterious.

Why are cicadas so noisy?

Cicadas are known for their buzzing and clicking sounds and when in large packs, it can create quite a disturbance. While the sounds produced varies by species, the noises we hear are mating calls from male cicadas attempting to attract the females, Virginia Tech's Department of Entomology explains.

How long will Brood IX swarm affected areas?

Fortunately, these periodic broods typically last four-to-six weeks before disappearing. While the generation will die off, it will have left its eggs. Nymphs will hatch from the eggs and make a home for themselves under the soil until it's time to shine, years from now. And so on.

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