The Return of the Seventeen-Year Cicadas

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In case you haven't heard yet, the cicadas are coming this year. In the next few months you will be hearing about the impending emergence of the 17 year cicada, mistakenly called 17 year locusts. If you don't remember the last outbreak, or if you are new to the east coast, you need to know a few facts about this periodic phenomenon.

Cicadas are large, plant-feeding insects. They have clear wings and are known for making a very loud noise. When tens of thousands of cicadas are singing at the same time the sound is quite loud and annoying. Be prepared for about 2 to 4 weeks of this sound beginning in May.

This fascinating streaming video is a mini-documentary detailing the life cycle of the amazing 17-year cicada. It includes some nice music, too [5:48].


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On the east coast, we're bracing for the howling emergence of a massive brood of 17-year cicadas in a couple weeks. Here's a nice piece in the Washington Post about the evolution of this strange life history.

Which broods in which geographic areas are emerging this year? Is there a website that is a 'cicada central' that gives all the details for each brood?

There was a huge emergence in 2002 or 2003 in the Northeast over through at least Indiana. I am wondering if there are different populations or individuals that are on different 17-year cycles in the same areas. I heard a cicada today near a wooded area in Houston, perhaps one of our 13-year cyclers as opposed to the annual ones; I believe the annaul form is supposed to emerge later. As a former resident of Pennsylvania and Virginia, I remember the regret I felt upon hearing cicadas later in the summer as a harbinger of the end of my school summer vacations. I also recall being annoyed at seeing ads in the newspaper for back-to-school clothing sales in early August.

By biosparite (not verified) on 25 May 2007 #permalink

Thanks for hat website, Diane. That is exactly the kind of one-stop-shopping page I was looking for.

There are six species of them - three pairs of sister-species, to be exact, with one species of the pair emerging every 17 and the other every 13 years. There are occasional 'near-misses' when a part of a brood emerges one year too early or late.

There are several 17y and several 13y broods around the country. Some have small, other huge geographical ranges. There are overlaps between them so the same forest can have emergence more often than every 17 or 13 years.

We had a big Brood X emergence in 2004 around the DC area. During its peak, it became difficult to bird because the cicada sound kept drowning out the bird songs. It turned out to be a great year for cuckoos, though. I see we are due for another emergence (Brood XIV) next year.

Greetings! We also had Brood X here in SW Ohio in 2004. What a mess they made- I'm glad they won't be back until 2021!