The return of a cicada swarm

Parts of the northeastern US are bracing for a cicada swarm when trillions of these creatures will burst from the ground when the temperature warms up a little more.

There are thousands of species of cicadas around the world but only 10 are considered periodical – having a life cycle that involves the juvenile cicadas living underground and feeding on plant sap for years before emerging en masse to the surface.

This year will see Brood XIX, the largest of all periodical cicada groups, emerge after a 13-year dormancy underground at the same time as Brood XII, a smaller group that appears every 17 years. The emergence will occur in spring, as early as this month in some places, and will see trillions of cicadas pop up in as many as 16 states, from Maryland to Oklahoma and from Illinois to Alabama.

Cicadas choose to burst aboveground when the soil temperature hits a certain point – usually around 64F (17C) – and global heating, caused by the burning of fossil fuels, is potentially scrambling this natural process.

Entomologists and cicada enthusiasts are excited about the prospect.

“It’s really exciting. I’ve been looking forward to this for many years,” said Catherine Dana, an entomologist who specializes in cicadas at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. “For the public, it’s going to be a really special experience.”

For now, onlookers can still enjoy this rare burst of nature in their gardens and public spaces. “Sit back and be in awe at the spectacle,” advised John Cooley, a cicada expert at the University of Connecticut who tracks the emergences. “It will be over soon enough. Then think about where you will be in 13 or 17 years. It’s a time for introspection.”

I can’t say that I share that enthusiasm. My only encounter with cicadas was in 2004 when I was in New Jersey for a few days when the area was hit with a cicada swarm. Since that was twenty years ago, that brood must not have been part of the big 13 and 17 year cohorts associated with broods XII or XIX. But the swarm was large enough. These creatures that look like cockroaches were everywhere, making a terrific racket and you could not walk outdoors without stepping on them and squashing them, which was kind of gross. I am glad that I will be nowhere near them this time.


  1. kenbakermn says

    Time to melt some butter, mince some garlic, and heat up some olive oil in the wok.

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