Peak Cicada

This is the emergence month of Brood X of the 17-year periodical cicada, one of the largest swarms in the world, and my area is a hotspot.  Brood X is pronounced “Brood Ten” if you’re acknowledging the Latin enumeration, or “Brood Ex” if the cicadas remind you of your ex – kinda dumb, clumsy, loud, with long periods of inactivity punctuated by bursts of intense focus on drinking and sex.

This will be the fourth emergence I’ve experienced, having been in the local area for every one since I was born. If you’d like an idea of the cicadas’ density at peak emergence, it works out to 25-30 per square foot – although mostly they’re not underfoot until they die; instead they’re looking for vertical surfaces like trees to land on, drink sap, and find a mate for sexytimes.  Vertical surfaces may include cars, utility poles, the sides of buildings, and your face (cicadas are not devoting their limited lifespan and intellect to finding the perfect tree.)

The males will start mating songs that reach up to 100 decibels. “That’s the sound of a chain-saw, a lawn mower, a jet overhead.”

Last time around, in 2004, the girls were in grade school and deeply freaked out by the cicadas, which have an unfortunate habit of flying right at you and getting tangled in your hair.  Also, they’re about the size of my thumb.  I find the whole thing pretty cool, to be honest.  They’re so present and prolific and so loud.  My Maine kid was not thrilled to find herself here for a move scheduled for peak cicada, but that’s the way it worked out.  And for what it’s worth, cicada aficionados (not just entomologists) travel here from all over the country to experience it, the way people travel to see a solar eclipse or some other natural wonder.

Here’s a fabulous quote from a Washington Post article that perfectly describes their varying calls (there are actually three species involved): “The song of the first species sounds like a flying saucer landing from a 1950s science fiction movie… the middle species sounds like someone took water and threw it into hot oil. The third one sounds like an angry squirrel.”

If you’d like to get a sense of their decibel level, here’s a link to a YouTube video of Tiger Woods at a golf tournament in 2004 in Ohio. Just listen to that ambient noise!

I’m glad I’m here for peak cicada, even though it’s inconvenient and I’m 100% sure that when my stuff arrives in Santa Fe eventually and gets offloaded, there will be stowaways.  Cicadas are potent symbols in many cultures — personal change, renewal, rebirth, and transformation among them. All that seems fitting as I prepare to embark on my next chapter in life.  See you soon.

  • Furriner says:

    I remember them from the 70s, but missed them in subsequent years. I just remember them flying in your hair and food if you were eating outside. At first we were, like, wow! but we got tired of them quickly. They were relentless!

    I missed them later because I was living in Japan, where I was surprised to find cicada keychains and that they found the sounds they made “cooling.”

    I think we don’t get them in Chicago this year but will in a couple of years. I look forward to their return to see how they measure up to my scary memories.

  • Patty says:

    I love cicada outburst. Though your description of an ex-husband may explain why. Enjoy! I know we are due for one soon here, probably next year, though I don’t think they get as bad as yours.

  • Dina C. says:

    My husband says the hum is like the sound of the OG Star Trek phasers. Yes, he’s a big Sci-Fi nerd. It’s loud enough now that we can hear it when we’re inside the house with the windows shut and the air conditioning on. THAT loud! Our dog can easily catch them cause they fly so slowly and badly, and then he’ll carry them over to the chaise lounge where he eats them. (He’s prissy like that!) So now my routine is to go outside and shoo them away with a broom before I let him out.

    • March says:

      Ha ha! Yes, the nightmare that is your dog/cat at the all-u-can-eat cicada buffet and then horking them up later, preferably on a carpet. I can hear them inside too, I agree, they sound like the OG Star Trek phasers, at least around me.

    • Furriner says:

      Yeah, I always think of them as the sound of science fiction!

    • MossyBerry says:

      Yes: the early morning sound is like the OG Star Trek phasers! We are in a major area in Southern Indiana, and I am loving it. And, yes, they are that loud!

  • Cinnamon says:

    Uh … wow. No thank you. I love spiders, bees, dragonflies — that sort of insect. This does not sound pleasant. We have one day a year usually in late summer when the flying ants do their thing. It’s a day to stay inside. I love the idea of the cicadas representing change and renewal though.

    • March says:

      Ugh, flying ants. I think if I hadn’t grown up with cicadas I’d find them horrifying; we always have some annual ones in the summer but they’re not the cicadapocalypse of this bunch.

      • Cinnamon says:

        thing is, having said this, I believe I grew up in the same ‘mid-Atlantic’ region as you but I have no memory of this — it would have to be the one 34 years ago (wasn’t in the US 17 years ago). did I block it out?

  • Musette says:

    omg. SO glad I was dry-mouthed when I read this, lest I spew coffee all over my laptop! Brood EX, indeed.
    We get them here but not at that Emergence Level. Sounds like a sound – and a sight – to behold!


  • Tara C says:

    That sounds horrifying, I am not an insect fan and having grown up in California suburbia was previously unaware of such a thing. Like Koyel I will actively seek to avoid a place with these phenomena. Yikes!
    Wishing you a safe and uneventful move.

    • March says:

      There are people here (transplants and long time residents) who deal with it by being gone for as much of the 6 – 8 week window as possible. And you don’t have to go far — they don’t happen along the eastern shore/tidal areas, not far away.

  • Portia says:

    I LOVE the colourful cicadas you get. Australian are much less Las Vegas showgirl and more farmer. Their sound has been the chorus of my summers forever. A few years ago hardy any flew and it was an eerily quiet summer, like we lived in a parallel cicada-less universe.
    Good luck with the move.
    Portia xx

    • March says:

      I love that sound; I too grew up with the annual variety and to me it is a signature sound of hot, late summer, up in the trees, although we seldom saw them.

    • MossyBerry says:

      Portia, right! They are fabulous.

  • Koyel says:

    OMG March, I lived in the DC area during the last cicada uprising (I was 16/17), and literally immediately searched for where they don’t come up when planning the rest of my life. I currently live in CA, where they don’t come out of the ground, and am SO THANKFUL to be missing them!

    • March says:

      A LOT of people feel the same way, and I know several people (already working remotely, or retired) who basically took off for bug-free climes until this is over.

    • MossyBerry says:

      I get that some people are creeped out, but just look into their beady red eyes…they are only a bit more more than the roots they feed on, but getting a chance to sing and fly!