Hope you’ve got noise-canceling headphones at the ready: The countdown to cicada Brood X is nearly complete.
Within the next several weeks, billions — possibly trillions — of the bulging-eyed bugs will emerge from the ground to mate, making a deafening racket in the process.
Luckily, University of Maryland entomologist Mike Raupp has the answers to some frequently asked questions about the coming invasion.
- Q: Why 'Brood X'?
Technically speaking, that “X” is a Roman numeral, and should be read as “10,” but Raupp said you shouldn’t let that spoil the fun of what is otherwise a really cool name.
“The early framers of cicada biology basically decided to use Roman numerals, so frankly this is ‘Brood 10,’ but hey, I gotta tell ya: Making it Brood X makes it even more mysterious — X-Files, X marks the spot!” Raupp said.
- Q: When will they emerge?
Some may have noticed a handful of cicadas out and about already. Raupp said the real party doesn’t kick off until the end of this month.
“It’s gonna begin to really take off in the first weeks of May — so by the end of the second week of May,” Raupp said. “And then, in the third and fourth weeks of May, hey, that’s when the Cicada-palooza is gonna happen — the tsunami is gonna be hitting.”
The bugs will stick around through most of June, but every party comes to an end sometime, and this one is set to wrap up by early July.
- Q: How many will there be?
Brood X is the largest batch of 17-year cicadas, and they will be out in force.
“Oh man, there’s gonna be a lot,” Raupp said. “In my backyard, there are about 30 holes per square foot — this is gonna translate to about 1.3 million cicadas per acre.”
The brood will appear in about 15 states, from Georgia up to New York, from the East Coast to Ohio and Illinois.
“I’m thinking there will be billions, maybe trillions, of cicadas emerging,” Raupp said.
- Q: Are they dangerous?
They may look like a monster out of an old Godzilla movie, but they don’t bite, sting, pinch or otherwise wish bodily harm on you or your family. The odds of power lines coming down are next to nothing.
But that doesn’t mean they can’t do some damage to the unprepared.
“When you’re out there riding your bike, you better have your helmet on and your goggles, because one of those clips you in the forehead and it’s gonna leave a mark,” Raupp said.
Otherwise, the cicadas will be going about their bug-related business.
“They’re kind of the Laurel and Hardy of the bug world — they’re big and bumbling,” he said. “They might bump into you, they might land on you. They’re not really attracted to you; you’re just in the way.”
- Q: Are they really that loud?
“Once that big-boy band is up in the treetops, they are really gonna fire it up,” Raupp said. “Remember, these are just teenagers — they’re 17 years old. When they get up in the treetops it’s gonna be a party, and they are gonna rock it.”
Raupp said the noise will be around 80 to 100 decibels — roughly the sound of a lawn mower or a jet plane flying overhead.
- Q: Will an unseasonal chill hurt them?
Per Raupp, cooler spring weather will slow them down a bit but not hurt them.
“They’ll be just fine,” he said during a May spell of brisk temperatures.
But that changes if there’s a frost or a long stretch of cold weather.
“The colder they are, the less rapidly they can move, and evade their predators,” Raupp said. “So, as temperatures warm, they’ll have a better chance of getting away. If it stays chilly like this, the squirrels and birds are going to have a feast, because the cicadas simply can’t move as quickly.”
- Q: OK, so it's starting to get warm now. Will the cicadas come out in droves?
With rising temperatures, entomologist Mike Raupp said the trickle seen during the cold spell is going to a turn into a flood.
“All the factors are lining up right now for a pretty spectacular emergence,” Raupp said.
- Q: Will they hurt my garden?
Raupp said the most these cicadas will do is sip some tree sap from young branches to feed during their time above ground; otherwise, they’ll be up in the treetops getting their scream on.
He said they may pose a danger to freshly planted trees, so anyone concerned about losing smaller trees should think about covering them up now. The Cicada Crew has some tips on how to cover those trees so cicadas can’t get to them.
Raupp also said pesticides will not help with the invasion. The best thing is to let nature run its course.
- Q: Should I cancel my outdoor plans for those weeks?
If you’re deathly afraid of bugs, probably.
Raupp however, sees the cicadas as extra friends for the party.
“You’re gonna have the intersection of essentially billions of cicadas with maybe 30 million human beings in their backyards over Memorial Day weekend, so there are gonna be a lot of them out,” he said.
He said wedding planners have asked him whether they should delay weddings until the end of June to avoid the bugs.
“I’m thinking if you have a wedding on Memorial Day weekend here in the DMV, you might have hundreds of surprise guests, and that’ll make the wedding even more memorable,” he said.
- Q: So … what are they doing?
Well, they’re participating in one of the strangest forms of survival in the animal world.
The plan goes like this: Billions of cicadas all emerge at once, to the delight of almost every living thing that considers bugs a fine source of protein. However, there are so, so many of them that predation barely takes a chunk out of their population, and plenty of the bugs live to reproduce. The strategy is called “predator satiation,” and has worked for the cicadas for millions of years, according to Raupp.
The female cicadas will then lay between 400 to 600 eggs in the young tree branches. The eggs hatch in about six to eight weeks. The young then go underground, and the 17-year cycle begins anew.
- Q: Can I eat them?
(Editor’s Note: I’ll be perfectly honest here: None of you asked this question. But I was wondering, and Mike was more than happy to supply an answer. Turns out, it’s a resounding “yes.”)
Raupp said just about everything in the food chain is going to want to take a bite out of these bugs once they begin to emerge.
“Boy, when those little nymphs come out of the ground and the adult cicadas are in the treetops, everything is gonna want to eat a cicada — including me,” he said. “I’m gonna be snacking on a few.”
Raupp said he plans to celebrate the appearance of Brood X with “emergence cookies.”
“They kind of look like a chocolate-chocolate chip and they’ve got a little cicada nymph in the middle,” he said. “One of my favorite cicadas is the soft-shelled cicada — fresh off the tree. It’s just like eating a clam or an oyster, you get that perfect cicada flavor.”
A word of caution, though: Cicadas are related to shellfish, so those with allergies should probably steer clear.