A Brood Like No Other: X

These Periodical Cicadas will Soon be Emerging After 17 Years of Hibernation

In early to mid-May, billions of cicadas will emerge from the ground, filling the air with buzz. With their black bodies, long wings, and red eyes, Brood X cicadas are the largest of the periodical cicadas. Generations under the age of seventeen have not yet lived to see “cicada season,” as they only emerge once every seventeen years, so their appearance will be rare and fascinating. 

Only 15 to 18 states will see the cicadas, from New York to Virginia, Michigan to Georgia, and everything in between. These cicadas will not be seen anywhere else in the world except for such states of and surrounding the Mid-Atlantic region. When the soil reaches 64º, the cicadas are expected to surface, and scientists predict that a good indicator for this occurrence is when the temperature hits low 80s for the second or third day in a row. Depending on how warm the temperature remains, the cicadas will last four-six weeks: the male cicadas die after mating, while the females stay alive until their eggs are laid. If the weather is consistently warm and dry, both males and females will mate and die off sooner rather than later, leading to a shorter cicada season.

May 2004 Brood X Cicadas | Tracy Lee | Flickr
Photo Courtesy of Tracy Lee

Many in the Gen Z population recall the loud chirping of cicadas in the summertime. So, what is so special about this year’s cicadas? Well, cicadas are grouped into 15 broods: 12 broods of 17-year cicadas and 3 broods of 13-year cicadas. Each group surfaces in their own pattern, which is why cicada regions see cicadas nearly every summer. But, this year is different. All threebroods of the largest group, Brood X, or the Great Eastern Brood, will emerge at once. Professor of Entomology at University of Maryland Dr. Mike Raupp says there may be as many as 1.5 million cicadas per acre in affected states. Large in size and loud in buzz, the cicadas of this phenomenon will essentially be impossible to miss. 

Another thing is different this year – not just from the previous few years, but from these cicadas’ whole existance: climate change. In May 2017, Brood X cicadas emerged 4 years early, shocking scientists and residents of cicada regions. Premature occurrences are very rare and usually extremely sparse, with only a few sightings. But in 2017, the Brood X cicada population was unusually active. While the full scientific explanation of this is not fully concluded, many predict that climate change played a large role. And, if the climate continues to warm, the three broods of 17-year cicadas may eventually become 13-year cicadas. While this may not seem disconcerting, other changes related to cicada emergences, such as population decreases, have been documented, said to be resulting from deforestation, urbanization, and climate change. Scientists see these changing life cycles in cicadas as another alarm for our country’s climate change.

Whether fascinated by the 17-year phenomenon or annoyed by the loud buzzing, many Americans are about to experience a rare episode. For the first time since 2004 and the last until 2038, Brood X is coming to town.