Learn more about Brood X cicadas as they reach top volume

Male cicadas have awakened after a 17-year nap are busy singing up a storm in the D.C. region, and as they sing, they share secrets about their species.

“Many people don’t realize there are actually three species of periodical cicadas emerging with Brood X this year,” said University of Maryland entomology professor Mike Raupp. “We can tell the three species apart by their size, their color patterns, but most distinctively by their calls and songs.”



The largest is Magicicada septendecim, which has brilliant orange stripes on the underside of its abdomen.

“Its call sounds like an alien spaceship landing to me. It’s up in the treetops; it’s very ethereal,” Raupp said, adding that some people think the call sounds like the word “pharaoh.”

Magicicada cassinii is a smaller species with a jet-black abdomen. “To me, (this species) sounds like an electronic transformer short-circuiting. It’s a screechy, loud noise,” said Raupp.

The third species is called Magicicada septendecula, and Raupp compares its call to a katydid or a cricket. “Its abdomen is also primarily black, but it’s got some faint orange bands on the underside,” he said.

Cicadas also make alarm or distress calls to scare off predators, and they have special courtship songs.

“These are designed to try to convince that special someone that she should be the mother of his nymphs,” said Raupp. “He has to give his very best performance, and often times it seems that it’s the loudest cicada that turns out to be the winner in this game of romance.”

The different species also thrive in different habitats.

“Magicicada septendecim can often be found in upland sites, while cassinii is often found in lower and sometimes flood plain areas. But all three species can be found together in the same locations,” Raupp said.

If you’re wondering if the cicadas will get any louder, the answer is probably not. Raupp said the Brood X invasion has peaked in our region.

“All three species are making an enormous racket up in the treetops,” he said. “The sound level can reach anywhere from 80 to 100 decibels. That’s the sound of a jet aircraft flying overhead or a lawnmower engine. They are really loud.”

Michelle Basch

Michelle Basch is a reporter and anchor at WTOP.

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A cicada drives a car carrying a boat trailer in this photo staged by Scott and Ellie Kanowitz. (Courtesy Scott and Ellie Kanowitz)

A cicada rides a skateboard in this photo staged by Scott and Ellie Kanowitz. (Courtesy Scott and Ellie Kanowitz)

A cicada wears a police hat in this photo staged by Scott and Ellie Kanowitz. (Courtesy Scott and Ellie Kanowitz)

Cicadas are locked up in a police car in this photo staged by Scott and Ellie Kanowitz. (Courtesy Scott and Ellie Kanowitz)

((Courtesy Scott and Ellie Kanowitz))
A white cicada.

Cicadas swarm a D.C. flag in a Northwest District community on May 18, 2021. (WTOP/Dave Dildine)

Countless cicadas emerge from the ground in a Northwest D.C. neighborhood on May 18, 2021. (WTOP/Dave Dildine)

Cicadas on a tire in this file photo.

A swarm of cicadas collect on a garden fence along Northwest D.C.’s Reno Road, near Chevy Chase, during a mass emergence on May 18, 2021. (WTOP/Alejandro Alvarez)

Cicadas get better acquainted in Potomac, Maryland on May 20, 2021.

Dozens of cicadas dot a tree on South Utah Street in Arlington, Virginia, on May 19, 2021. (WTOP/Antonello Favaro)

Jeff Herge of Herndon, Virginia, has so many cicadas by his fence that he hesitates to walk near it. (Courtesy Jeff Herge)

Cicadas dry their wings after emerging from the ground in D.C.s Palisades neighborhood on May 10, 2021. (Courtesy Jewel Tomasula)

Three “Brood X” cicadas cling to a tree and shed their shells in D.C.’s Palisades neighborhood on May 10, 2021. (Courtesy Jewel Tomasula)

A safe spot for cicadas is found in Potomac, Maryland on May 20, 2021.

Cicadas break in their new bodies in Potomac, Maryland on May 20, 2021.

A newly-molted cicada stands beside its former self in D.C.’s Woodley Park neighborhood on May 18, 2021. (WTOP/Brennan Haselton)

An adult cicada hangs upside down just after shedding its nymphal skin, early Wednesday, May 5, 2021, on the University of Maryland campus in College Park, Md. The cicadas of Brood X, trillions of red-eyed bugs singing loud sci-fi sounding songs, can seem downright creepy. Especially since they come out from underground only ever 17 years. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

An adult cicada is seen, in Washington, Thursday, May 6, 2021. Trillions of cicadas are about to emerge from 15 states in the U.S. East. The cicadas of Brood X, trillions of red-eyed bugs singing loud sci-fi sounding songs, can seem downright creepy. Especially since they come out from underground only ever 17 years. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

A cicada nymph wiggles its front legs as it is held, Sunday, May 2, 2021, in Frederick, Md. People tend to be scared of the wrong insects, says University of Illinois entomologist May Berenbaum. The mosquito kills more people than any other animals because of malaria and other diseases. Yet some people really dread the cicada emergence, she said. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

A periodical cicada nymph clings to a tree branch on May 11, 2021 in Greenbelt, Maryland. – Some are waiting for their arrival with trepidation, others are curious what they might taste like: Americans are swapping tips on how best to weather the storm when billions of cicadas soon emerge after 17 years underground. (Photo by JIM WATSON / AFP) (Photo by JIM WATSON/AFP via Getty Images)

A robin feeds a cicada to her young. (Courtesy Jennifer Baum)

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