In just about a third of a square foot of dirt, entomologists at the University of Maryland found at least seven cicadas — a rate just below one million per acre. A nearby yard had a rate closer to 1.5 million.
According to scientists, trillions of the red-eyed black bugs are coming.
Within days, or a couple weeks at the most, the cicadas of Brood X will emerge after being underground for 17 years. There are many broods of periodic cicadas that appear on strict schedules in different years. However, this is one of the largest and most noticeable. The bugs will be in 15 states from Indiana to Georgia to New York. They are even coming out in mass numbers in Tennessee and North Carolina right now.
When the entire brood emerges, backyards can look like waves. And bug chorus is as loud as a lawnmower.
The cicadas will mostly come out at dusk to avoid everything that wants to eat them. They will squiggle out of holes in the ground and try to climb up trees or anything vertical. Once off the ground, they shed their skins and try to survive that before they become dinner to predators including ants, birds, dogs, and cats.
It may sound disgusting and even terrifying to some, but scientists say the arrival of Brood X is a sign that despite pollution, climate change, and dramatic biodiversity loss, something is still right with nature.
It’s also important to note that this is not an invasion. The cicadas have been here the entire time quietly feeding off tree roots underground. They were not asleep, they were just moving slowly waiting for their body clocks tell them it is time to come out and breed. They’ve been in America for millions of years, far longer than people.
They aren’t locusts. The only plants they damage are young trees. The year after a big batch of cicadas, trees actually do better because dead bugs work as fertilizer.
People tend to be scared of the wrong insects, says University of Illinois entomologist May Berenbaum. The mosquito kills more people than any other animals because of malaria and other diseases. Yet some people really dread the cicada emergence, she said.
“I think it’s the fact that they’re an inconvenience. Also, when they die in mass numbers they smell bad,” Berenbaum says. “They really disrupt our sense of order.”
“This is a feel-good story, folks. It really is and it’s in a year we need more,” he says. “When they come out, it’s a great sign that forests are in good shape. All is as it is supposed to be.”