WASHINGTON — The soon-to-be buzz around town is that the DMV will be getting a few billion noisy new neighbors this spring. They'll be hard to miss with their orange wings, buggy red eyes and distinctive mating calls.
Yes, the weird, creepy, totally harmless insects known as cicadas are expected to appear up and down the East Coast between late April and early June. They come out of the ground, mate and then die while their offspring go back underground and wait another 17 years before they emerge to repeat the process.
“You won’t have a hard time finding them because this is expected to be a really big emergence event,” Dr. Floyd Shockley, an entomologist with the Smithsonian Museum of National History, said of the brood we are expecting to see in a few months.
Billions of Brood X cicadas that have been living underground since 2004 will tunnel their way to the surface and then emerge when the soil temperature rises above 64°F. Once above ground, they have little time to waste as they only live a few weeks.
They typically climb onto trees or branches where they will molt once more, before finding a mate. The males "sing" species-specific "congregating" songs that can be deafening, but tone it down for a courtship song when approaching an individual female. The females indicate their interest with a flick of their wings.
Most matings occur in the trees, and the female cicadas will lay approximately 600 eggs in slits in the tree bark. Once the eggs hatch, the cicada nymphs fall off the trees and burrow back underground for 13 to 17 years.
If you feel like we were just talking about cicadas, you're partially right. There are two classes of cicadas: annual and periodical.
Annual cicadas live underground for 2-5 years, but because they overlap with each other and cover a large geographic area, there are always a few out every year.
Periodical cicadas live underground for 13 or 17 years. They tend to be limited to only certain regions based on Brood, but Shockley said there is at least one Brood, and sometimes more than one, emerging every year, just not in the same place.
Brood X is one of 15 broods of periodical cicadas that appear regularly throughout the eastern United States. They typically appear in Delaware, Illinois, Georgia, Indiana, New York, Kentucky, Maryland, North Carolina, New Jersey, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia, Michigan and D.C.
Last spring, we saw Brood IX emerge in West Virginia, North Carolina and the western portion of Virginia. While Brood IX may have been slightly larger in size than Brood X, they appeared in much smaller numbers than what we will see this year.
Brood X actually made a surprise early appearance in the DMV in May 2017.
“Almost every brood has stragglers that show up a year before or a year after,” Dr. Shockley explained. “That’s actually how periodical cicada broods come into existence. You get enough stragglers coming out at the same time and they breed, and that makes them off by one year from the brood to which they actually belong.”
Cicadas can make an attractive meal for dogs, cats and birds. If Fido gobbles one up on his walk this spring, don't panic as they are typically harmless to animals. But if they have been sprayed with pesticides they could cause issues, so it's best to try and discourage your pets from feasting on too many cicadas.
And just in case you were wondering, here are a few things the world was talking about the last time this brood of buggers were buzzing about in 2004.
- The Friends series finale
- Britney Spears marrying K. Fed
- The Red Sox winning the World Series for the first time since 1918
- Ronald Reagan dying
- Weapons of mass destruction (or the lack thereof)
- Spider-Man 2, Shrek 2 and Harry Potter: The Prisoner of Azkaban
- Maria Sharapova becoming the first Russian to win Wimbledon
- Snoop Dogg's "Drop It Like It's Hot"