Cicadas re-emerge after 17 years

Brood X cicadas surface across McLean and the Mid-Atlantic region in swarms

From disgust to instant enjoyment, the appearance of the Brood X cicadas has drawn the attention of locals and international news-watchers alike. Following months of anticipation, the Brood X (pronounced Brood Ten) cicadas, which last emerged in 2004, dug their way out of the soil and into our daily lives.

Brood X cicadas are a group of insects that live underground and feed on sap from the tips of plant roots for 17 years as they mature into adults. Once the insects surface, they typically live for one month to mate and lay eggs before dying. The newly hatched cicadas, known as “nymphs,” will then disappear for the next 17 years and are predicted to emerge again in 2038.

“I really enjoy the fact that all species of [Brood X] cicadas have their life cycles in prime numbers so that predators cannot get too specific for them, although they do have some amazing predators like some wasps and the cicada parasitic fungus,” biology teacher Shayna Kirschenbaum said.

As a result of the long periods between appearances of the Brood X cicadas, most students and even some adults have never seen them previously. The insects have drawn unprecedented community interest due to their vast numbers.

“To be honest, I had no idea what cicadas were until some of my friends mentioned it this year,” sophomore Sweta Das said. “When my brother and I went to play basketball, it was very intimidating seeing the dozens of dead cicadas on the court, regardless of the fact that they can’t hurt you.”

Still, others had heard news of the cicadas, and specifically Brood X, before their arrival. Seeing the swarms for the first time elicited many reactions among students and community members.

“It was pretty cool and a bit overwhelming [at first] because I’d honestly never seen them before and to just have so many swarming around was pretty crazy,” junior Varun Veluri said. “I had heard that they appear every 17 years and that there are a couple trillion of them across the entire Mid-Atlantic, which is insane.”

Many parents, who witnessed the last Brood X cicada cycle, have shared stories with their children about the cicadas.

“My mom was in elementary school when she first experienced the cicadas,” freshman Hailey Buursink said. “She said that they spent a lot of time throwing the cicadas at each other as a game.”

While some parents have seen the cicadas, this occurrence is the first time students have seen the insects in large numbers.

“During the last cicada brood, my mom was in Tennessee. The cicadas are much more apparent there, so many were flying around into people. One of her friends had a plant on her porch that was overflowing with shells,” sophomore Rebecca Sullivan said. “As a result of these stories, I was slightly underwhelmed by the cicadas because I thought there would be more but [I am] also really excited at the same time.”

Students and parents alike have noted the impacts the emergence of the Brood X cicadas has had on many of their daily activities.

“Recently, at my sports practices they have been flying onto us and it is very distracting,” Buursink said. “The only other good thing that has come out of the cicadas is that they serve as a good topic for conversation.”

After surfacing, cicadas molt and leave their shells behind, which has drawn mixed responses from the community, even causing

“When I saw [all of the molted shells] on the ground, I was very shocked,” junior Seoyoon Lee said. “The ones that were crawling were really scary.”

Cicadas produce a loud sound after surfacing to draw mates. The sound resembles a series of rapid clicks and is due to the contraction and release of a cicada’s tymbal muscle, which is bent in order to produce the sound.

Those who have seen the Brood X cicadas before have observed changes from previous emergencies.

“I do remember the last emergence of cicadas,” biology teacher Catherine Hott said. “We lived in the same house that we are living in now, and it seems to me that the cicadas are noisier and that the population is bigger.”

While the Brood X cicadas only emerge once every 17 years, they have long-term impacts on the community through their ability to draw people to nature, increase interest in biology and environmental science and decrease fear of bugs.

“In the beginning, I was definitely freaked out by the cicadas coming near me, and I would have my friends flick them off of me,” Buursink said. “Now that I am more used to cicadas, I don’t mind them as much and I have become a little less scared of bugs.”


Jayne Ogilvie-Russell