The northeastern part of the U.S. may soon face a massive appearance of cicadas. These loud, large insects are set to emerge from the ground after 17 years in the middle of May and will likely be an impressive brood.
Periodical cicadas are somewhat unusual. They emerge once every 13 or 17 years and spend their life above ground involved in a frenzy of mating, egg laying, and then death. These types of cicadas can only be found in North America, and certain broods only appear in certain years.
In this case, we're going to be seeing "Brood V," which covers a wide latitudinal range. Southern populations can be found at high elevations, while northern populations are at relatively low elevations. In total, there are three 17-year species that can be found in North America. There are also four more species that emerge every 13 years.
After cicadas are born, they largely live their lives underground. After long juvenile periods, though, they emerge in huge numbers. In fact, they form much denser swarms than those created by other cicadas.
So, when will cicadas emerge in your area? Locally, periodical cicadas will pop out of the ground when soil temperatures at a depth of 7 to 8 inches reach about 64 degrees Fahrenheit. Because of the colder nights that are keeping soil temperatures chilly, it's likely that we won't see these insects until well into May.
These cicadas are striking in appearance. They have black bodies with bright red eyes and orange wing veins. While there are other cicadas that don't have a periodic emergences and instead appear each year, these particular cicadas are characterized by the fact that there are simply so many of them during May and June.
Cicadas are as harmless as insects. They don't sting or bit; instead, they overwhelm predators with their sheer numbers. Because there are so many of them, predators have a hard time simply eating all of them. This ensures that at least some females survive to lay eggs so that the next generation can emerge.
"There will be a large pulse of above-ground food for birds (which will probably see a boost in offspring production)," Chris Simon, a molecular systematist at the University of Connecticut's Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, said in an interview. "In addition, when the cicadas die, there will be a large nutrient input to the soil that will benefit trees and understory vegetation. As the cicadas emerge, underground biomass will decrease and mole and other insectivore populations that have been feasting on them for years will suddenly be left with a lot less food."
In the next few weeks, be sure to keep an ear out. The 17-year brood is finally emerging after its long rest beneath the earth.