Story at a glance

  • The insects are expected to make their emergence sometime between mid-May and late June across large swaths of the eastern United States and Midwest to mate.
  • Periodic cicadas lay their eggs inside the twigs of trees and shrubs that later hatch and drop to the ground.
  • The tiny nymphs then burrow into the soil and feed off the roots of plants and trees for the next 13 to 17 years as they grow and develop.

Billions of periodic cicadas that have spent nearly two decades underground feeding off tree roots will soon crawl out of the ground, shed their skin and begin looking for mates. 

The insects, which bear orange wings, red eyes and a familiar loud buzz, are expected to make their emergence sometime between mid-May and late June across large swaths of the eastern United States and Midwest. 


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Periodic cicadas lay their eggs inside the twigs of trees and shrubs that later hatch and drop to the ground. The tiny nymphs then burrow into the soil and feed off the roots of plants and trees for the next 13 to 17 years as they grow and develop. The insects differ from annual cicadas, which feed underground for only about two years. 

After their extended time underground, billions of the insects come to the surface to mate and lay eggs for five to six weeks. The swarms of male cicadas fill the air with their distinct hum to attract mates.

“May is going to be a loud month, for sure, for cicadas,” Jessica Ware, an associate curator of invertebrate zoology at the American Museum of Natural History in New York, told Reuters

“It’s this kind of dance; males are showing that they can call as loud and as long as possible, which means they’re probably a good mate. Females are listening. Are they calling loud? Are they calling long?...it’s kind of a complicated acoustic dance that they’re doing,” Ware said. 

The once-every-17 year hatch expected to occur this spring will feature a generation of periodic cicadas dubbed Brood X. The insects will make their way above ground once the spring soil reaches a warmer temperature. 

Researchers believe the insects have such long life cycles underground to avoid predators. By emerging in such large numbers all at once they can reduce their chances of being eaten. 

While they can be a nuisance, cicadas are harmless to humans and researchers advise against killing the bugs as they are one of the natural wonders of the world. 


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Published on Mar 25, 2021