17 years in the making, this spring's cicada invasion generates - WSLS 10 NBC in Roanoke/Lynchburg Va

17 years in the making, this spring's cicada invasion generates early buzz

Posted: Updated:
? AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster ? AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster

After hanging around underground for 17 years, billions of flying bugs known as cicadas are due to sweep over the East Coast starting sometime in the next month. And although it's too early to predict exactly where or when the brood will appear, this spring's emergence should rate as the most closely watched bug-out in history.

"For entomophobes, this is the season of despair. For the entomophiles, this is the season of joy," said University of Maryland entomologist Michael Raupp, using highfalutin terms for bug-haters and bug-lovers.

The outbreak is expected to start in the Carolinas in April or early May, and work its way up northward to Washington, Philadelphia and New York by early June. Some observers have already reported the first signs of the emergence. The timing depends on the weather: Cicadas dig "escape chimneys" up from the ground where they've been maturing for the past 17 years — and when the temperature reaches 64 degrees Fahrenheit (18 degrees Celsius), that signals the insects to rise up, wriggle out of their shells, take wing and look for mates.

The bugs are mostly harmless to plants and humans. The worst a cicada can do is poke you with its pointy proboscis. But the 90-decibel buzz of a sky-darkening swarm can be a bit unnerving to the unprepared. Raupp recalls one harrowing tale from 1962's outbreak, when "the kids were shrieking in the playgrounds as cicadas divebombed them."

In Raupp's view, however, the pluses far outweigh the minuses. The cicada nymphs help aerate garden soil with their burrowing, and when they emerge, the bugs represent a culinary bonanza for birds and other species. (They're said to taste like asparagus. Or shrimp.)

Besides, cicadas are cool. "Without a doubt, they are a true marvel of nature and one that should be enjoyed whenever possible," Raupp writes on his Bug of the Week blog.

It's thought that the 17-year life cycle arose to keep the cicadas' predators off their game, and perhaps make the most of climatic variations. Scientists even suspect that the number 17's status as a prime number plays a role. (Some periodical cicada species emerge every 13 years, and 13 is also a prime number.)

This particular group of cicadas, known as Brood II, hasn't surfaced since 1996. But other broods have had their own day in the sun during the intervening years. The big ones include Brood X ("The Big Brood"), which last came out in 2004; and the 13-year Brood XIX ("The Great Southern Brood"), which emerged in 2011.

This year's brood is notable in that it should spread out over the United States' most densely populated region. Entomologists expect the cicadas to show up in the countryside, in woodsy suburbs and even in urban locales such as New York's Central Park.

The New York-based Radiolab science show is preparing for "Swarmageddon" by helping citizen scientists build soil thermometers. Readings from the "cicada detectors" are being shared via an interactive Cicada Tracker map. Meanwhile, the Magicicada website keeps up its own database of cicada sightings. That website, supported by the National Geographic Society, also provides tons of information about the species and what to do with them. (But if it's recipes you need, you might have to look elsewhere.)

Thanks to the rapid rise of crowdsourcing and social media, this year's event is sure to become the most tweeted cicada emergence in history: Cicada Mania suggests using the hashtag #BroodII for the 2013 outbreak, and #Cicadas for general cicada issues. If you want to see the Twitterverse from the cicadas' point of view, just follow @Brood_II. There's a Cicada Mania Facebook page for entomophiles. And if you're an entomophobe, you'll find kindred spirits on the "I Hate Cicadas!!!!!!" Facebook page.

Whether you're an entomophobe or an entomophile, this will all be over soon: Once it starts, the emergence typically lasts only four to six weeks — long enough for Brood II's cicadas to mate, lay their eggs, and get the next generation settled for their 17 years of life underground as root-sucking nymphs.

  • U.S.More>>

  • Hundreds of teens have died playing this old, but popular game

    Hundreds of teens have died playing this old but popular game

    Thursday, July 31 2014 12:08 AM EDT2014-07-31 04:08:39 GMT
    It's troubling and alarming an old trend is resurfacing, teens across the country are passing out to get high, and the consequences could be deadly. It begins with rapid breathing, then a sudden gasp
    It's troubling and alarming an old trend is resurfacing, teens across the country are passing out to get high, and the consequences could be deadly.
  • House approves VA health care overhaul

    House approves VA health care overhaul

    Wednesday, July 30 2014 8:57 PM EDT2014-07-31 00:57:37 GMT
    With a new Veterans Affairs secretary in place and an August recess looming, Congress is moving quickly to approve a compromise bill to refurbish the VA and improve veterans' health care.
    The House overwhelmingly approved a landmark bill Wednesday to help veterans avoid long waits for health care that have plagued the Veterans Affairs Department for years.
  • Suing Obama: GOP-led House gives the go-ahead

    Suing Obama: GOP-led House gives the go-ahead

    Wednesday, July 30 2014 7:47 PM EDT2014-07-30 23:47:20 GMT
    Republicans are ready to muscle legislation through the House authorizing an election-year lawsuit against President Barack Obama that accuses him of exceeding his powers in enforcing his health care law.
    A sharply divided House approved a Republican plan Wednesday to launch a campaign-season lawsuit against President Barack Obama, accusing him of exceeding the bounds of his constitutional authority. Obama and other...
  • Virginia Settles ABC Lawsuit

    Virginia Settles ABC Lawsuit

    Wednesday, July 30 2014 10:09 PM EDT2014-07-31 02:09:02 GMT
    Attorney General Mark Herring says the Commonwealth has reached a settlement with Elizabeth Daly in her $40 million lawsuit against several agents of the Virginia Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control.
    Attorney General Mark Herring says the Commonwealth has reached a settlement with Elizabeth Daly in her $40 million lawsuit against several agents of the Virginia Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control.
  • Franklin County accident causes lane closures on Brooks Mill Road

    State Trooper injured in accident on Brooks Mill Road

    State Trooper injured in accident on Brooks Mill Road

    Wednesday, July 30 2014 3:31 PM EDT2014-07-30 19:31:25 GMT
    State Police confirm that a trooper was involved in a crash Tuesday night.
    State Police confirm that a trooper was involved in a crash Tuesday night.
  • Fugitive sex offender captured in Roanoke

    Fugitive sex offender captured in Roanoke

    Fugitive sex offender captured in Roanoke

    Wednesday, July 30 2014 12:41 AM EDT2014-07-30 04:41:44 GMT
    ROANOKE (WSLS) - A man wanted for sex crimes against a minor was captured in Roanoke during a traffic stop.
    ROANOKE (WSLS) - A man wanted for sex crimes against a minor was captured in Roanoke during a traffic stop.
Powered by WorldNow

WSLS 10, P.O. Box 10
Roanoke, VA 24022-0010

Telephone: 540.981.9110
Fax: 540.343.3157
Email: news@wsls.com

Can't find something?
Powered by WorldNow
All content © Copyright 2000 - 2014 Media General Communications Holdings, LLC. A Media General Company.