7 Things You Didn’t Know About Cicadas

Bryan Walsh

They’re loud, they’re punctual and they’re kind of gross. Cicada hysteria has gripped the nation’s media, at least in the Northeastern U.S., which of course, is about the only place that matters to the media. After 17 years buried in the soil, the cicadas of Brood II are emerging with the hot summer weather. Once above ground, they’ll sing their intensely loud mating song—which can reach as high as 120 decibels—breed and die, leaving billions of squishy orange corpses on the lawns and sidewalks of America.

By now the basic details of cicada life for Brood II should be pretty well established: born in 1996, they burrowed into the ground, where they lived safely as nymphs for the next 17 years, sucking on sap from tree sap. 17 years later they burst above ground at once, depending on their sheer numbers—as many as 30 billion may emerge—to ensure that enough will survive to reproduce and begin the whole cycle over again. Other cicada broods follow different time tables, but for each the point is the same: flood the zone. Any cicadas who are late or early to the party aren’t likely to survive—they have few natural defenses as individuals—ensuring that the swarm’s timing remains pristine.

But there’s more to the cicadas than just they’re uncannily accurate internal clocks and piercingly loud mating calls…

Subscribers can access our graphic on the life cycle of the cicada here