Ready or not, the cicadas are back.
Across the eastern United States and parts of the Midwest, billions of cicadas emerge from the basement for the first time in 17 years to participate in a noisy month-long mating ritual.
Sightings of cicadas have already been reported in several states, including Virginia, Maryland and Georgia, but with warm temperatures expected over much of the East Coast over the next few days, the winged insects could be in large numbers. this week.
“It’s such a unique experience because they really take over for about a month,” said John Cooley, an entomologist at the University of Connecticut. “There might be billions of ants around, but most of the time you don’t notice them. They are big, loud, funny, charismatic, and active bugs, and you really can’t ignore them. “
The cicadas that are emerging today are periodic insects. They spend most of their lives underground feeding on tree roots, before digging tunnels on the surface to look for mates.
Six species of cicadas make their home in the eastern United States. This year’s emergence includes three insect species that live in 17-year cycles – a group known as Brood X.
Cicadas typically emerge from the basement once the ground reaches a temperature of around 64 degrees Fahrenheit, Cooley said.
“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 ground temperature is right, and then they go out,” he said.
Once the insects rise to the surface, they lose their pupae exoskeletons and spread their wings. It then takes several days for their adult skin to harden.
After that, the frenzy begins.
With just a few weeks to find a mate and lay their eggs before dying, the cicadas are in a race against time. The insects emit a loud, high-pitched mating song that can reach up to 100 decibels, roughly the equivalent of a motorcycle or jackhammer, Cooley said.
But while cicadas do ring and look menacing – especially with their blood-red eyes – they’re not harmful to humans. The same goes for animals that may munch on discarded cicada exoskeletons.
“They’re not poisonous, but you wouldn’t want your dog to buckle up on them,” Cooley said.
Researchers like Cooley want to study Brood X cicadas during this narrow window when they are active above ground. Scientists are interested, for example, in mapping their range and any changes in behavior between cycles.
“There were a lot of cicadas that made a mistake and came out four years earlier, in 2017,” Cooley said. “We have these locations located and we want to see how many cicadas are coming out this time. Maybe these were areas that had an unusual abundance of cicadas, or maybe something strange was going on. “
And while the emergence of billions – if not billions – of noisy winged insects may fill some people with terror and anxiety, Cooley hopes people will enjoy and enjoy the experience.
“It’s such an interesting and rare phenomenon,” he said. “Take advantage of it during its release and remember that it won’t happen for 17 years. “