Massive swarm of cicadas emerge for first time after 17 years underground

Cicadas emerging after 17 years in the USA.
The Brood X periodical cicada shed their exoskeletons after spending 17 years underground (Picture: EPA/Getty)

Billions or perhaps even trillions of cicadas are making a long-anticipated return across the USA.

The ‘spectacular event’ occurs every 17 years when the tiny insects emerge from below ground and blanket Washington D.C and some 15 states, from New York to Georgia and Illinois.

But once the red-eyed periodical cicadas – known as Brood X – come out, they only live for about three weeks, allowing them to mate before they die.

In another 17 years time, their young – known as nymphs while underground – will appear again in one of the natural world’s rarest phenomenons.

Now the animals, also called Brood 10 – and the accompanying symphony of noise they produce – have started emerging in parts of the eastern United States.

Dr Michael Raupp, a cicada enthusiast and professor emeritus of entomology at the University of Maryland, said: ‘This is just a spectacular event. I mean, there’s nothing else like this on the entire planet Earth, even in the entire universe.

‘This is the only place anywhere that we have 13 and 17-year cicadas emerging by the billions, if not trillions.’

Romance, 'wicked sex', and lots of predators... The cicadas are back

The 3.8cm long black insects, which have iridescent wings and bright red eyes, are being seen for the first time by most people born this century.

Dr Raupp said the insects are found in larger numbers in areas where there are more mature trees, and where the insects were plentiful in previous cicada cycles.

But despite being eaten en masse, the sheer number of cicadas overwhelms predators and mean they survive in their droves.

They tend to thrive in sunlit forest edges, which often provide the warmer weather and younger trees most ideal for them to lay their young.

Periodical cicadas burrow into the ground after hatching, some digging as far as 8 feet (2.4 meters) below ground.

A cicada
The creatures overwhelm their predators with sheer weight of numbers
An eastern gray squirrel chomps down a newly-emerged Brood X periodical cicada in Washington, DC, USA, 16 May 2021.
A tasty snack for a Washington DC squirrel 17 years in the making (Picture: EPA)
Brood X periodical cicada nymphs crawl through the well of a tree prior to shedding their exoskeletons after spending 17 years underground in Washington, DC, USA, 16 May 2021.
The cicadas are known as nymphs before becoming adults (Picture: EPA)
Two newly molted periodical cicada adults cling to a tree next to their now-empty shells on May 16, 2021 in Takoma Park, Maryland.
Two of the insects cling to a tree next to their now-empty shells in Maryland (Picture: Getty Images)
A Magicicada periodical cicada begins to molt from its nymph state as it clings to the branch of a tree on May 16, 2021 in Arlington, Virginia.
The average American is only likely to see the event four times in their life (Picture: AFP)

While underground, the nymphs suck the sap from tree roots and after 17 years, they emerge and climb trees and shrubs, where they shed their crunchy skins and harden into maturity.

The males make a cacophony of sounds in the tree tops as they try to find a mate.

Once the cicadas have mated, the females cut slits into tree branches, where they deposit 400 to 600 eggs.

The adults quickly die, but the eggs hatch a few weeks later to restart the cycle. This year’s young will bore into the ground and won’t emerge again until 2038.

The animals are not harmful to pets or humans, and some people even go on a ‘cicada safari’ in their own back garden, as encouraged by Dr Raup.

He added: ‘There will be birth. There will be death. There will be romance in the treetops. It’s going to be better than an episode of Game of Thrones… So go out and enjoy the cicadas.’

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