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Cycling Cicadas

What is that humming noise?

Is it a malfunctioning motor? A faulty fan? No, it’s cicada season! In many places around the world, you might start to hear cicadas every year as soon as the weather warms up. But if you live in the Eastern United States, the summery sound of buzzing cicadas happens only once or twice a decade! When it does happen though, it happens in a big way. Scientists predict that this year will be a cicada party the likes of which haven’t been seen in 17 years.

The Eastern USA is home to three species of cicada that are unlike any other: the Magicicada. These bugs spend

before emerging as adults for just one summer. They live in groups of various sizes called broods, and each brood lives in a specific area of the country. These broods all run on different 17-year clocks, so that there is a brood of cicadas emerging somewhere in the region nearly every year. Every brood is associated with a roman numeral. For example, Brood VII lives only in the east of New York state and emerged most recently in 2018. In 2019, Brood VIII emerged from across Ohio, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia. 2020 was the year of Brood XI, which emerged from North Carolina, Virginia, and West Virginia.

This year, scientists predict that we will be seeing the emergence of Brood X for the first time since 2004. Also known as the Great Eastern Brood, this is the largest of all 17-year cicada broods. Scientists are expecting billions, if not trillions, of cicadas to emerge in the early summer! Brood X cicadas can be found in 15 states, spread out from Georgia to New York, Illinois to Connecticut. In some of these places, you may see these insects gathering in densities of up to 1.5 million per acre!

For the past 17 years, these Brood X cicadas have been living underground as juveniles, sucking the liquid out of plant roots for food. Scientists think that cicadas mark the passage of time by counting the seasonal changes in the amount of plant liquid available to them. This spring, when the soil reaches just the right temperature, the cicadas will crawl out of the ground, shed their skin, stretch their wings, and make their way to the treetops as full adults. Over the next few weeks, the males will sing love songs to attract a mate. This results in the loud chorus of buzzing that cicadas are so famous for. The females will lay their eggs on treetop branches. Soon after that, this generation of cicadas will die off. Around the end of summer, cicada nymphs will hatch from the eggs. These barely born babies will then take an epic plunge down to the ground, where they burrow deep into the soil. We’ll be seeing the next generation of Brood X emerging in 2038!

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