Artwork by Ilias Sounas, Dribbble
The anticipated emergence of Brood X in the eastern part of the United States fills people with either fear or awe. Words like “infestation,” “plague,” and “invasion” are often used to describe this rare occurrence. These insects have existed for at least 200 million years and their clockwork-like emergence every 13 or 17 years is nothing short of a miracle. Scientists are still unsure just exactly how a cicada knows when to emerge. Different hypotheses suggest that cicadas can tell a year has passed by sensing seasonal changes in the tree sap they feed upon, but it is still a mystery as to how they track the overall years. Whatever their mechanism for telling time, when the soil hits about 64 degrees Fahrenheit, they begin to emerge from their subterranean home.
Their sheer numbers as a means of survival is fascinating but unfortunately becoming more and more tenuous. External factors such as climate change and human impact from continued development could alter their behavior or longevity irrevocably. So, let’s celebrate these mysterious creatures because as it turns out, we may have a lot more in common with these bugs than we think. See below for articles on finding out what kind of cicada you are, and how these mysterious creatures can teach us a lesson on how to emerge from the darkness.
Emerging from Darkness by David Rothenberg, New York Times
“We have been learning during this past year of the pandemic to count rises and falls in Covid-19 cases, to alternately feel hope and fear, to count and be counted, to wonder if things are improving or declining…And still we are not sure whether it’s safe to come out. Would that we had a cicada’s certainty about life and love!”
Cicadas Have an Existential Problem by Ed Yong, May 5, 2021, The Atlantic
“Cicadas might seem like creatures with concerns quite different from our own. But like us, they have come to rely on an interconnected network of parts that becomes more unwieldy and fragile with time, and that they can barely control. After a year of straining supply chains, globally coursing misinformation, and the layered disasters of pandemic pathogens and a changing climate, the cicadas’ plight might feel eerily familiar. In a few weeks, Brood X cicadas will emerge into a world not unlike the ones inside them.”
Opinion: Are you a Brood X cicada, or just someone emerging from pandemic isolation? by Alexandra Petri, April 1, 2021, The Washington Post
"You haven’t had any contact with friends or other members of your generation in what feels like 17 years."
"You have lost all sense of how to interact with others, if indeed you ever possessed it."
Artwork by Chisato den Engelsen, Dribbble
Resource guide from the Department of Entomology at the University of Maryland
Map of Active Cicada Broods of the United States
From the U.S. Forest Service
View or participate in this citizen-science app that allows users to see where the cicadas are popping up in real time. Created by professor and cicada expert Dr. Gene Kritsky working with the Center for IT Engagement at Mount St. Joseph University in Cincinnati.
Cicada Fun Facts
- first written record of Brood X cicadas occurred in 1715
- there are three distinct species of 17-year cicadas and 4 species of 13-year cicadas
- possibly due to glaciation during the last Ice Age, periodical cicadas only occur in the eastern United States
- scientists are unsure why the periodical cicadas are on prime-number life spans, but believe that emerging as a group enables them to survive predation
- in large groups, the sound of cicadas can reach as high as 100 decibels, slightly louder than a lawnmower
- the cicadas’ tunnels are ecologically beneficial because they provide aeration to the soil among many other benefits