Trillions of Cicadas to Emerge Across the US in Massive Invasion

An influx of cicadas, a kind of periodic flyer characterized by red eyes, a pumping head, and jet-like muscles in the back, has not been seen in decades—if not centuries—is going to take place.

Unlike their yearly green-tinged relatives, these bulging-eye bugs are black. They burrow underground for several years before emerging to swarm a landscape, clinging to homes with their shed exoskeletons and creating a crunchy texture underfoot.

John Cooley, a cicada specialist at the University of Connecticut, has dubbed the impending invasion of some regions of the United States this spring “cicada-geddon.”

In 1803, while Thomas Jefferson was president, he made a mistake when writing about cicadas in his Garden Book, thinking they were locusts. This was the last time these two broods appeared together.

After repeatedly drilling several boreholes in Georgia’s red clay, the nation’s biggest geographic brood, Brood XIX, which emerges every thirteen years, is poised to make its way across the Southeast. Due to climate change, they are emerging sooner than in the past, when the ground reaches a temperature of 64 degrees (17.8 degrees Celsius). As they get older, the bugs become a deeper shade of brown.

Insects that resemble cicada relatives emerge every 17 years, and Illinois will be inundated with them shortly after their massive appearance in the Southeast. The 15 distinct broods emerge on 17- and 13-year cycles every few years. Entomologists have speculated that central Illinois has a little region where these two broods may overlap, but they will likely not interbreed.

This year’s figures are staggering, spanning hundreds of millions across sixteen states with an average density of around 1 million per acre. According to Cooley, it might be hundreds of billions, if not quadrillions. When the most enormous broods, XIX and XIV, emerge simultaneously in 2076, “that is the cicada-palooza.” This will be an even more massive nearby combined emergence.

Evolution is probably the source of part of the astronomical cicada numbers. Birds love the fat, sluggish, and delicious periodical cicadas, but there are too many to wipe them out.