When the ground temperature reaches at least 64 degrees Fahrenheit on their 17th year, trillions of cicadas rise up from the depths of the earth… but only in North America; this doesn’t happen anywhere else on earth.
And it’s happening this year, in 2021.
These cicadas are endemic to North America. Now, I know we’ve got a pandemic fresh in our memories, but endemic, in this case, means a plant or animal that is native and restricted to a certain place or region.
Not all indigenous plants and animals are endemic. They must be native and restricted to a specific place, area, or region.
Some cicadas have already come up
In Columbia, Maryland, a homeowner was sifting through just a shovel load of dirt from his backyard when he found a cicada nymph — in a matter of minutes, he found at least 7 nymphs in just a third of a square foot of dirt. That’s a rate of nearly 1 million cicadas nymphs per acre. And a nearby neighbor’s yard yielded a rate of 1.5 million cicadas per acre!
- Zoom out to a square mile and that would be 900,000,000. Nearly 1 million cicadas per square mile (if the density remained consistent, of course).
There’s even a whole PDF of recipes for you to “cook and enjoy” these insects. Appetizers, main dishes, and even desserts! Could there be anything better? 🙂
Cicadas are nothing to worry about or be afraid of
Cicadas don’t bite or sting… nothing to be afraid of at all. They’re really just a big inconvenience to a lot of people. Personally, I’m not too thrilled about cicadas swarming my backyard either. I’ve read a few different articles that talk about the odor they leave behind when they die too. Death never smells nice. They’re just going to drop dead out of the trees and fertilize the very tree that helped give them life (cicadas feed off the roots of the trees for the 17 years they’re underground).
And even though they basically swarm the trees, studies have shown that cicadas have no long-term effects on adult trees. They’re likely to overwhelm a number of baby trees, but this only happens once every 17 years.
The insects climb up the nearest vertical surface, often the tree whose roots sustained them. They shed their exoskeletons and inflate their wings. After a few days resting and waiting for their shells to harden, the mating begins. The frenzy is impossible to miss once hordes of males start emitting their high-pitched mating song. That happens via sound-producing structures called tymbals on either side of their abdomen.
“They may amass … in parks, woods, neighborhoods and can seemingly be everywhere,” Michigan State University entomologist Gary Parsons explained in an MSU question and answer session on the phenomenon. “When they are this abundant, they fly, land, and crawl everywhere, including occasionally landing on humans.”
It’s all over in a matter of weeks though
These things spend 17 years underground until their instincts are screaming at them telling them to go up.
This generation of cicadas have never been above ground; they’ve never even seen sunlight, right? They have absolutely no idea what they’re doing, they just know they’re supposed to go up!
They’re basically young adults who are incredibly sexually charged and ready to go. They all make it to the treetops, the males start singing and whatnot, and it’s all romance from there. Within a few weeks, the babies are born and always end up falling out of the tree onto the ground.
From there, they burrow underground and begin that 17-year cycle all over again. We won’t see those little buggers again until 2038.
The moms and dads? They too end up falling out of the trees onto the ground, but only to help fertilize the trees over the next year. Because they die.
What kind of life is that?
17 years… underground, no sunlight, eating tree roots… you come up for a bit, feel that warm sun, make a lot of love, and die within weeks. They barely got to have those slutty college years.
I really don’t know much about cicadas, but when I heard this phenomenon was happening this year, I knew I wanted to learn more. And I’m glad I did. These insects seemingly only have a lifespan of a few weeks. But, in reality, they’ve been alive since 2004. They could legally drive a car.
I can’t think of another insect with that kind of lifespan.
Edit from June 9th — saw this tweet and had to put it in here.
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