Rise of the Cicadas



Get your fill now of the cicadas since they won’t be back until 2038.

In the past week, one of my worst fears came true. The cicadas are here. After 17 years of people telling me that they will pop up to the surface in giant hordes and occupy every molecule of the air we breathe, my five year old self’s nightmare fuel has finally awoken.

While they definitely aren’t the demonic creatures that my juvenile brain imagined, it’s an undeniably odd experience. Although their stares through beady red eyes don’t bother me physically, my insectophobia-ridden imagination may be a little too active for this time of year.

You may be wondering, why do they have to come out of their holes in the ground? What does 17 years have to do with anything? And, if you can hear the low drone of chirps, why are they so incredibly loud? Never fear, because I am going to explain their unfortunate reason for existence to rationalize not staying inside all summer too (although just researching this gave me anxiety every time they looked at me through the screen).

The specific population of cicadas rampaging the eastern coast of the United States are known as Brood X, a group of millions of cicadas projected to spill out in 15 states across the country every 17 years.

Despite my fears, these Magicicada cassinii (their scientific name) are exceedingly harmless—often called the land equivalent of shrimp. They can technically be eaten too, as chefs in the midst of this onslaught have been cooking them in tacos, topping on pizzas, and even covering them in chocolate.

Their primary purpose for being is to mate. That’s the abhorrent drone you’ve been hearing above you lately. Once they find a tree to land on, they must find another cicada to mate. In fact, the entire above-ground lifespan of a cicada is spent growing, mating and, finally, dying. Before this quick death, the females lay eggs at the end of tree branches that will eventually drop to the ground and allow for the young nymphs to burrow down and absorb sap from the roots of said tree to grow, until they are called to rise from the soil in another 17 years like clockwork.

They emerge on this cycle in a coordinated wave known as a “brood,” caused by an evolutionary instinct that gives them the best chance to find a mate and tauntingly escape extinction before they are killed off before natural predators or exceed their short lifespan. If you’ve seen the mauled bodies of cicadas everywhere you step, you know just how urgent that need to reproduce must be.

How long?
Because their lifespan is only 4-6 weeks, we can expect the last of them to die off at the end of June and into July. Once their nymphs hatch and burrow into the ground a couple of weeks later, we hopefully won’t have to see them until 2038.

You can find out where they come up with the Cicada Safari app, and help scientists track their changing emergence patterns by taking a picture of them yourself. If you find yourself in absolute desperation for more pictures of cicadas, here are some more resources on their unfortunate existence: