WASHINGTON — After 17 long years of waiting, it’s almost time for billions of cicadas called Brood X to make their emergence once again in the DMV.
Residents around for the last brood in 2004 -- and experts alike -- agree the bugs will be hard to miss; with their orange wings, buggy red eyes and distinctive mating calls. The swarm of noisy insects will be throughout the D.C. area and in 10 other states.
Of course, it’s not every day that a biblical proportion of bugs emerge from the ground to hang around for weeks on end. Residents across social media have posted their questions, concerns and memories of the former broods from back in the day.
In an effort to let everyone know what we’re up against, WUSA9’s Q&A Team reached out to Dr. Floyd Shockley; the Collections Manager in the Department of Entomology at the National Museum of Natural History.
When can we all expect the insects to make their grand appearance?
There’s a reason you’re not seeing or hearing much yet. The swarms aren’t expected to show up until the end of April, with a true peak in the second or third week of May. The buzzy bugs should taper off around the end of June.
“It's based on the temperature,” Dr. Shockley explained. “Many of the cicadas have already started digging their emergence holes but they haven't actually fully emerged yet."
Q: Where exactly will the cicadas be in the DMV?
A: The cicadas will mostly hang around places with an abundance of greenery, as the insects must emerge from the ground. Given this, “downtown will largely be spared,” he said.
“Most of Maryland and D.C. is gonna see them. As soon as you get down into Northern Virginia, they're gonna start to drop off . . . And everywhere where there's concrete, there’s going to be relatively low numbers.”
Q: How will the cicadas affect your treasured outdoor plans?
A: Unfortunately, we may all soon have to add “billions of bugs” to our list of ways our plans were derailed in the 2020s — right next to a pandemic.
“If you're eating at an outdoor restaurant, it's going to be fairly miserable,” Dr. Shockley confirmed.
However, it’s not for the usual reasons of bugs ruining meals. The cicadas are harmless, so there’s no need to fear any stinging or biting. Plus, they prefer landing and hanging onto taller, vertical surfaces.
Q: Although, Dr. Shockley did acknowledge that people are also often tall and vertical. Does that mean you can expect the cicadas to hang all over you?
A: He explained that the reason cicadas hang on surfaces — often trees or buildings — is to get away from predators, as well as to have a solid surface to cling to during their hourslong process of shedding their shell. He assured that, unless you are standing for long periods, you likely won’t be a target. Although the insects may land on you, it will be easy to shoo them away.
Instead, the real issue for any outdoor activity will most likely be the brood’s intense mating song.
“Just the sound alone that they're going to generate, it's going to make it pretty unpleasant to be outside,” Dr. Shockley detailed. “You have to keep in mind that there's going to be exponentially more cicadas out during this mass emergence. Because there are so many and they are exclusively calling to find mates, the noise in really high-density areas will be uncomfortable to the human ear. These guys have been known to disrupt graduations and weddings when they come out in mass. In some cases, it's been recorded almost as high as 120 decibels, which is the same as a really loud rock concert or a jet engine.”
The insect expert explained that locals can expect to hear the cicadas’ very own rock concert from approximately 10 a.m. until 5 p.m. every day of their weekslong emergence.
Q: How will Brood X affect driving? What about if you’re on a motorcycle, or in a convertible with the top down?
A: Dr. Shockley explained you likely won’t have to worry as much about the cicadas getting in your car or obstructing your view on a motorcycle. However, the real trouble may come when the swarms choose to land on the roads.
Due to the large volumes, if a group gets squashed, that can make for slippery conditions that you’ll want to watch out for when driving.
Q: What about walking the dog? Should you keep cats indoors? How will they fare during the emergence?
A: “If your cat or dog eats one of these cicadas, it's not going to make it sick. The cicadas aren't poisonous, they're not toxic,” Dr. Shockley said. “They can make them sick if they eat too many, but they'll throw it up and they'll be fine.”
Q: Here’s a question some may have forgotten to ask: can you eat the cicadas? And if you wanted to whip some up for dinner, how should you go about it?
A: No need to worry. The answer is yes, you can safely snack on the cicadas.
Dr. Shockley said that historically the broods were a meal for some Native Americans who used to take advantage of these kinds of emergence events.
He likened the taste to shrimp — he’s tried a few from a couple of different broods.
"They taste really good . . . I have several friends who are actually hosting cicada cooking events in May, just because this is sort of a once in a generational opportunity," he shared.
“I usually like to add a little spice, eating them almost like spiced shrimp. You can put it over rice. You can just skewer them and slow roast them. Any of those are totally viable options,” he explained, adding that, although it’s not harmful, he wouldn’t recommend eating them raw. “There's actually a few cookbooks that are exclusive for cicadas.”
However, it’s important to slow your roll if you have a shellfish allergy. The bugs can trigger a reaction too, according to Dr. Shockley.