Millions of Brood II Cicadas Expected In DC Soon

WASHINGTON, D.C. (WUSA) - You could soon hear what may sound like alien space ships hovering over head. Instead of looking up, look down, and you'll likely see cicadas emerging from the ground.

Just like in 2004, when the Brood X Cicadas invaded neighborhoods in the D.C. area, any day now, the Brood II will emerge.

"It's an amazing natural history event that we'll get to see," said Dan Babbitt, the manager of the Smithsonian's Insect Zoo and Butterfly Pavilion.

He says it'll happen when the soil temperature reaches 64 degrees Fahrenheit.

"About a week before they emerge they'll dig a hole up to the surface. And then they'll wait underground for about a week and then we'll get emergence of about 75 percent of the population. Which is probably millions and millions of cicadas. The end of April, beginning of May. So it all depends on soil temperature," said Babbitt.

The nymphs will crawl out of the ground on to trees and shed their skins.

No need to be alarmed or afraid of the big, slow moving bugs. While they may do a little damage to tree branches when they lay their eggs, they're harmless. But they are fascinating.

In 2004, my own children who were little at the time had a lot of fun catching them and trying to find the males... by listening.

"A week to five days after they emerge, the males will start making this vibration. They have a membrane on the body that vibrates back and forth at a really high rate of frequency. And really what they're doing is calling to females. So they're saying, 'I'm over here, I'm over here!'" said Babbitt.
Females lay 400 to 600 eggs. The above ground cycle lasts for about four weeks. When the nymphs hatch, they burrow several inches underground and wait for another 17 years, feeding on tree roots.

Babbitt says Brood II is the same species as the Brood X, and both are 17 year cicadas. There are also 13 year cicadas. The periodic, red-eyed cicada is smaller than the larger common cicada which has green eyes and comes out every year.

Babbitt says there's a theory about why the periodic cicadas stay underground for so long. He says it's thought they're trying to avoid their prey. "They're trying not to be eaten so they can be able to breed and reproduce," said Babbitt.

He explained that it's only humans who have figured out their schedule. And usually, humans don't want to eat them. Although, in 2004, Babbitt and his cohorts did fry up some cicadas. He says the young, soft ones are best and that they have a nutty flavor. Babbittsays if there are enough around, he might cook up another batch this year.


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