After 17 Years Underground, The Cicadas Are Coming


Every 17 years, the Northeast’s natural landscape comes alive with a song that some describe as “an alien spaceship coming in.” No, this isn’t some sci-fi movie, this is cicada season.

While some species of cicadas play their winged song for us every summer season, three specific species of cicadas are getting ready to make their debut in the above-ground world after 17 years of waiting. Known as periodic cicadas, these winged creatures get their name from their unusually long life cycles — which are the longest confirmed life cycle of any insect in existence.

And sometime in May, billions of these cicada will burrow out of their hiding places and invade parts of New York, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Ohio, with such force that their density can reach as much as 1.5 million cicadas per acre.


So when will it happen? While there’s no definitive date, reports that it happens whenever the soil temperature hits 64 degrees Fahrenheit for four nights in a row at a depth of 8 inches.

Once they emerge, the cicadas will climb into trees for shelter, shedding their exoskeleton in order to acquire a shiny black and orange shell. And for the next month and a half, the male cicadas will sing, mate, sing some more, and then eventually die.

Meanwhile, silent females will lay their eggs. Upon hatched, the nymphs will crawl into the ground to grow and wait for another 17 years.

“If those males don’t mate, they’ve utterly failed,” David Marshall, an entomologist from the University of Connecticut told the Washington Post in 2004. “So everything they’re doing is centered around that sound.”

And while this mathematically specific specimen will likely annoy or overwhelm you and the trees on your property, you can rest assured knowing they’re relatively harmless, albeit loud.

In fact, cicadas can actually be beneficial to trees, providing aeration for their soil and help to prune the branches of weak trees. Since trees can add as much as 10% to your home’s value, maybe their song will be a little sweeter this time around.

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