May 6th, 2013
06:00 AM ET

They’re baaack! Bugs emerge after 17 years

By Jacque Wilson, CNN

They emerge from the ground after 17 years, their worm-like bodies creating hundreds of peanut-sized holes near the base of your tree. As they begin to climb, their dark brown skin starts to shed. Two beady red eyes appear.

By the time they reach a steady branch their transparent wings have stretched, opened and closed. Within an hour their white bodies will turn black.

Soon the males will start to sing.

The life cycle of the periodical cicada is the stuff of horror movies: millions of large flying insects that crawl out of the ground after 17 years to mate loudly, lay eggs and die.

There are 12 broods, or groups, of the 17-year cicadas, says Dan Mozgai, operator of CicadaMania.com. There are also three 13-year broods. Every year between April and June one or two cicada broods emerge in a different region of the United States.

After they emerge, the adult cicadas mate and the females dig holes in tree branches to lay their eggs. The eggs hatch six to eight weeks later and the tiny cicadas fall to the ground, where they’ll burrow into the ground to feed off the tree root’s sap for the next 13 to 17 years.

This year Brood II is beginning to appear in Connecticut, Maryland, North Carolina, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania and Virginia. You can see reported sightings of the insect on this map. Next year Broods III will arrive in Iowa, Illinois and Missouri, and Brood XXII will come to Louisiana and Mississippi.

While the insects don’t bite and aren’t poisonous, the females may mistake you for a singing male if you’re mowing the lawn or using power tools, Mozgai says; the vibrations of such machines are similar to the cicadas’ mating song.

It’s a song that’s sung loud and obnoxiously through the day. So much so that Mozgai has a wedding planner section on his website for brides who want to avoid a cicada-march down the aisle. (In 1902, a speech by President Teddy Roosevelt was reportedly drowned out by cicadas - not an easy feat against a man who used to call cattle for a living.)

But Mozgai’s favorite thing about cicadas is seeing people’s reactions to them each year, he says. Some write YouTube songs. Others do parodies. A few make recipes (apparently if you collect the soft white cicadas as they emerge from the ground, you can blanche them and freeze for future use).

Check out these creative uses of cicadas in music found on YouTube:


Gene Kritsky isn’t a big fan of cicada-flavored food, but he does love pretty much everything else about them. He has been studying the insect since the early 1970s when he was an undergrad at Indiana University. In 2004 he published “Periodical Cicadas: The Plague and the Puzzle,” named partially for the Pilgrims, who thought cicadas were eerily similar to the locust plague.

“They really are bugs of history,” says Kritsky, who is chair of the biology department at the College of Mount St. Joseph in Cincinnati.

Scientists have been studying the evolution of the cicada broods for generations. There are more than 8,000 historical records of their emergences, Kritsky says, going back to the 1600s. Biologists believe they hide underground for 13- or 17-year periods to keep predators from adapting to their life cycle.

Evidence of this comes from the annual cicada, which has a specific predator: the cicada killer wasp. Periodical cicadas do not have a similar foe. The prime number hibernation period seems to be the reason, Kritsky says.

“They could very easily pattern to evolve an eight-year cycle,” he says of potential predators. “They could do four and four. But there’s no way to get to 17 gradually. It’s either 1 or 17.”

Since the mid-1990s, Kritsky and his colleagues have seen broods emerging about four years early, something they believe is related to global warming. (Warming soil temperatures signal to the grown cicadas each spring that it’s time to emerge.)

In 2000, Brood X emerged early. “In 2017, if they emerge in that area again, we will have witnessed a whole new evolution of a brood of cicadas,” Kritsky says excitedly.

As for people in the Northeast dealing with the invasion of Brood II this year, Kritsky has some simple advice: “Enjoy them.” And if you see them in your backyard, report it to his website at www.msj.edu/cicada.

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soundoff (53 Responses)
  1. Elroy Jetson

    They are delicious in a stir fry. Lots of protein.

    May 13, 2013 at 11:45 am |
  2. Henryk Behnke

    Find out more about the 17-year Cicada at the trusted source for everything cicada since 1881: the Staten Island Museum, which holds the largest Cicada Collection in North America, second in the world only to that of the British Museum.
    Explore the exhibit http://ow.ly/jKXIP and join one of the programs in May and June. For questions about cicadas contact Ed Johnson, Director of Science at
    (718) 727-1135 or by email at ejohnson@statenislandmuseum.org.

    May 9, 2013 at 10:40 am |
  3. amy

    Are they the same thing as a locust?

    May 7, 2013 at 4:23 pm |
    • Phelan

      No, Amy, Cicadas are in the order Hemiptera and locusts are grasshoppers, in the order Orthoptera.

      May 15, 2013 at 1:46 pm |
  4. Ron P

    First the economy then, super storm Sandy…. I knew it was only a matter of time before we had locusts in New Jersey

    May 6, 2013 at 10:20 pm |
    • Big Shiz

      Jersey already has locusts,all the people that live there.

      May 7, 2013 at 10:50 am |
  5. RG86

    I live in Maryland and the last time we were invaded by a huge brood was in 2004 when I graduated high school. I remember my graduating class picking them off the trees and releasing them into the Cathedral where we had our Baccalaureate Ceremony. It was funny hearing them click and buzz over top of the keynote speaker.

    May 6, 2013 at 7:04 pm |
    • John Lubeck

      It sounds like you still have not grown up (That's a complement). :)

      May 6, 2013 at 8:04 pm |
  6. Lisa

    They can be very noisy. I remember the last time we had them. Not looking forward to this!

    May 6, 2013 at 4:39 pm |
  7. Mayela

    Another Cicada Parody to Faith Hill's Breathe. totally worth watching

    May 6, 2013 at 3:36 pm |
    • StarGazer

      Lol, that was great!

      May 6, 2013 at 6:20 pm |
  8. Andree Joy

    I forgot to mention that my grandparents lived in the back country, in the hills behind and around Nice. The cicadas lived in the pine trees.

    May 6, 2013 at 3:32 pm |
  9. boarddog

    I was in MD years ago when one of the broods emerged. It was incredible. The constant noise sounded like the phasers form the Enterprise. You had to keep your mouth closed and your drink covered they were so thick in the air.

    May 6, 2013 at 3:30 pm |
  10. Andree Joy

    I was born in Nice France. My mother would bring me to stay for the summer school vacation, to my Grandparents. We must have had the annual cicadas, as I would hear their song, which was not that loud, I didn't mind them, you get used to them. As a matter of facts I liked to hear
    their somewhat melodious sounds.

    May 6, 2013 at 3:24 pm |
  11. Yakobi

    I wonder...if we export them to China, will then then keep the rat meat they've been passing off as hamburger?

    May 6, 2013 at 3:07 pm |
    • GK

      No need to export them. Cicada is very common in Asia, including China.
      And I believe they already eat cicada in China and southeast Asia. I think they fry the cicada and eat it along with beer.
      Kids in Asia use cicada as pets. You can pressing the bottom side of male cicada to make them sing.

      May 6, 2013 at 6:52 pm |
  12. Bonnie

    Cicadas rock! If only the songs reflected that.

    May 6, 2013 at 2:41 pm |
  13. MrMagoo

    This is a sign of end times. The cicadas are the voice of destruction. The end of humanity is near at hand.

    May 6, 2013 at 2:24 pm |
    • Darthlawsuit

      Don't worry, I hear some asian countries like eating bugs. We just need to give them all "Eat Visa's" and let them feast on these bugs until they are no longer a threat.

      May 6, 2013 at 2:37 pm |
  14. Yum Yum

    They do make a great casserole . Grated Cheese and Stewed Tomatoes .. If you choose to chew them alive be sure to eat them head first.

    May 6, 2013 at 2:00 pm |
  15. Dekota

    I saw some back in 2009 in South East Georgia. They terrified my ex-husband because of the loud noise. He refused to go in the kitchen because he didn't know what they were.

    May 6, 2013 at 1:33 pm |
    • Jorge

      When I first moved to Augusta, GA 8 years ago I was greeted that very same evening by the freakish, otherworldly, scare-flick sound of hundreds of them. Should've taken it as an omen or theme-song of other things to come, (thankfully I no longer live there).

      May 13, 2013 at 6:11 pm |
  16. Dan Brooks

    Has a cicada song ever reached the Top 40 or won a Grammy?

    May 6, 2013 at 1:33 pm |
    • Chris Gates

      Probably better than most pop-garbage on the charts these days. :)

      May 6, 2013 at 3:16 pm |
  17. James

    Isn't it crazy how the will be dormant for 17 years, and then all at once they know to come "alive" at the same time down the the hour?

    May 6, 2013 at 1:31 pm |
  18. Doug Bartake

    They don't ALL come out at the same time like there are none for 17 years and then they all emerge as you are making it sound. They have these in many places of the world. Other than the singing they harm no one. The singing drives me nuts after a while. They are in Beijing China every year and that is where I encounter them every year.

    May 6, 2013 at 1:30 pm |
  19. Macy

    When we were young, cicadas were our toys, I had very good memory about them, I loved the song they were singing!

    May 6, 2013 at 1:13 pm |
  20. BIGTEX67

    CREATURES THAT HAVE WORK ONLY ONCE EVERY 17 YEARS AND HAVE NO REASON TO EXIST

    SOUNDS LIKE YOUR TYPICAL LIBERAL OBAMA VOTER

    May 6, 2013 at 1:13 pm |
    • bob baden

      I hope you didn't pull a muscle reaching to use that Obama joke. Idiot.

      May 6, 2013 at 1:26 pm |
    • thedoctor

      Off topic, no sense of capitalization nor punctuation.....You must be a typical conservative Romney voter.

      May 6, 2013 at 1:33 pm |
    • donz0

      Still sore about November 6, 2012, are we? Heh heh. Stop your damn whining and fix your political party. You're worse than the Cicadas.

      May 6, 2013 at 1:34 pm |
    • jason

      Only a dope right winger would try and bring politics into this type of story – not to mention try and equate cicadas to unemployment. Always amazed....

      May 6, 2013 at 1:41 pm |
    • Stephanie

      @BIGTEX67....You are such an ignorant sore loser. The only thing big about you is apparently your mouth. As an Obama voter and supporter, I've worked hard since I was 15 and contribute to society by giving back, working at the local poling precinct, volunteer work, etc. You, apparently, need to get a life.

      May 6, 2013 at 2:25 pm |
    • Darthlawsuit

      Wow you guys just got trolled so hard and so easily. I give this troll 10/10 and the repliers 0/10

      May 6, 2013 at 2:39 pm |
      • jboh

        How do you know he is kidding. After all, he is a texass.

        May 6, 2013 at 7:21 pm |
    • Reggy NewNew

      Next thing you know people are gonna wanna be banning cicadas.... and probably after that trying to marry them.

      May 6, 2013 at 2:52 pm |
  21. booboobear

    Liar! We hear cicada every stinkin' year!

    May 6, 2013 at 1:01 pm |
    • ranlo

      Seems we heard them every year in Missouri.....But crickets are qutie noisy too!

      May 6, 2013 at 1:11 pm |
    • BioHzrd420

      "Evidence of this comes from the annual cicada, which has a specific predator: the cicada killer wasp. Periodical cicadas do not have a similar foe. The prime number hibernation period seems to be the reason, Kritsky says."

      It seems there is more than 1 type of cicada. The ones you are hearing most likely emerge EVERY year, while the ones discussed in this article emerge every 13-17 years. Reading comprehension, people.

      May 6, 2013 at 1:16 pm |
    • Mike

      There's more than one kind of cicada, silly. This particular 17 year type is particularly "special". I grew up in the NE and remember the 17 year version VIVIDLY. I lived in the deep south (Alabama) and I know the kind you're thinking of. The 17 year version makes the yearly type sound like a whisper... trust me you haven't heard this one. Think of the loudest frogs you've ever heard, now imagine being surrounded by thousands of them sining 24 hours a day no matter where you went.

      May 6, 2013 at 1:27 pm |
    • donz0

      You're probably thinking about Katydids.

      May 6, 2013 at 1:37 pm |
    • Charlie

      If you haven't been in an area that has a bad periodical cicada infestation, you have no idea the difference. It is crunch while you walk, can't hear yourself think, madness. Nothing like hearing annual ones.

      May 6, 2013 at 1:47 pm |
      • Dana

        They're not only maddening. I had a maple tree they'd infest along with everything else in Missouri that you had to pass to get to the car. I'd walk past, and they'd swarm around, flying chaotically around me like a swarm of killer bees. I hate these things. The noise is like having a stereo cranked up right next to my head, my ears ache once in the car or a home. Thank god I don't live anywhere where they'll spawn anymore.

        May 6, 2013 at 2:39 pm |
  22. StarGazer

    Several years ago, I noticed 1 of these making its way out of the ground in my yard. After it made its way out, we picked it up & set it on the picnic table & watched the rest of the process. The wings were clear & it appeared to have a neon green color in its "veins". It looked wet & it just sat there & soaked up the sun to dry. About an hour or so later, it flew up to a tree. It was interesting to watch & I've never seen that happen again. I was in the right place at the right time.

    May 6, 2013 at 6:55 am |
    • don_weber

      Nice!

      May 6, 2013 at 3:10 pm |

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