The Next Big Buzz: 14 Things You Didn't Know About Cicadas

Cicada sits on a branch in natural habitat


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Cicada sits on a branch in natural habitat

Swarm Regards

More than 1 billion and possibly as many as trillions of cicadas will soon be emerging from their Rip Van Winkle-like slumber and pretty much take over more than a dozen U.S. states with wild, mating-centric abandon. The bugs' numbers will be extra huge this year because swarms of 13-year and 17-year cicadas will both erupt this spring, according to National Public Radio. If the very thought makes you want to become a temporary agoraphobe, we feel you. Still, keeping in mind that knowledge can help conquer panic, we've put together some facts about cicadas that will hopefully help you stay calm and explore this noisy once-in-a-lifetime spectacle with more wonder than fear.  

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Cicada exuviae

1. There Are Thousands of Species of Cicada

There are actually around 3,000 to 4,000 species of cicadas around the world, but periodical cicadas — the kind that emerge from their buried-alive status every 13 or 17 years — are unique to the United States. In the U.S., there are around 190 species of cicada, according to biologist Josh Matta — but only seven of those, members of the genus Magicicada, belong to the periodical groups. 

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Locust Emergence Holes
Locust Emergence Holes by Greg Hume (CC BY-SA)

2. They Emerge From the Ground as Broods

When periodical cicadas emerge from the ground, they come up in what are called broods. The 2024 broods are known as Brood XIX and Brood XIII, though no one knows for sure how many there will be, some experts think they number in the trillions. There are, in total, about 15 active broods in the U.S., all named with roman numerals. Future broods —  XIV and I — are due to emerge in 2025 and 2029, respectively. Brood XIX emerges every 13 years; Brood XIII comes out every 17 years; and the last time these broods emerged together was in 1803, according to NPR.

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eastern united states

3. The 2024 Cicadas Will Emerge in Numerous States

Brood XIII, known as the Northern Illinois Brood, appears in Illinois, Wisconsin, Indiana, and Michigan. Brood XIX is known as the Great Southern Brood and appears in Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Missouri, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, as well as Washington, D.C., according to Cicada Mania.

Cicada Swarm
Cicada Swarm by Greg Hume (CC BY-SA)

4. They Won't Emerge All at Once

No, the cicadas won't all come up from the ground at once, zombie apocalypse-style. Rather, the insects will emerge as the ground temperature in which they're buried has reached around 64 degrees Fahrenheit. That noted, experts say as many as 1.5 million cicadas can emerge in a 1-acre portion of land at once. Arising together as an enormous swarm might freak some people out, but keep in mind that it's a way for the cicadas to overwhelm and avoid predators — a technique known as predator satiation, the website EarthSky noted in 2021.

Cicada sits on a branch on a green background

5. No One Really Knows Why Periodical Cicadas Exist

Or why they only emerge in the eastern half of the United States, and nowhere else. Theories range from behavior involving predator avoidance to climate-related glacial cycles. In truth, no one has yet figured it out. "That's one of the big unanswered questions," John Cooley, an entomologist at the University of Connecticut, told National Geographic. "It's got to be something pretty special because it's rare." 

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Cicada - Brood X

6. The Cicadas Will Remain for Weeks

After the swarms surface from the ground, their main goal will be to mate, and this can happen in a time period anywhere from two to six weeks post-emergence, according to experts. Brood XIII and Brood XIX generally appear beginning in mid-May and end in late June, according to Cicada Mania. 

Maria Dorsey /istockphoto

7. They Will Be Loud

Once the cicada males start singing, expect to want to close the windows or grab some earplugs. Their mating calls create a racket that can reach up to 100 decibels, which is about as loud as the noise coming from a lawnmower, a motorcycle, a jackhammer, or a garbage truck. In other words, cicada mating is loud.

Cicada mating

8. Some Are Jacked up on Amphetamine

About that mating ... A small percentage of the cicadas emerging this year will be infected by a fungus called Massospora, which can produce a compound called cathinone — the amphetamine  commonly known as "bath salts." The infection causes the insects to lose the lower part of their bodies, including their genitals. Ironically, it also pushes their reproductive desires into overdrive and they'll mate — or rather, attempt to mate — with a rather reckless abandon. 

The Airedaile Terrier dog eats the grass at the backyard
Alex Potemkin/istockphoto

9. Your Pets May Try to Eat Them

Cicada broods, despite their habit of predator satiation, will get eaten — notably by wildlife such as birds, squirrels, possums, chipmunks, birds, skunks, raccoons, snakes, ants, and frogs. Also, your dog, which might try to dig them up and eat them before they even emerge. The American Kennel Club notes that while a pup can likely safely eat a few cicadas, you should prevent pets from gorging on them like an all-you-can-eat insect buffet. Too many can be hard to digest and cause "serious consequences." 

fried bugs for dessert locust cockroach insects in Thailand

10. They're Edible

If you crinkled up your nose at the thought of your dog eating a cicada, know this: Humans have historically eaten them. Often called "the shrimp of the land" due to their arthropod status, cicadas are considered nutritious: low in fat, high in protein. Some culinarily adventurous Americans are no doubt planning to indulge in them here soon, if articles at Food & Wine, NPR, and this 2004 cicada-centric cookbook titled "Cicada-Licious" available for free online, are any indication.

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Child Holding Cicada Slough

11. Cicadas Do Not Sting or Bite

Here's a good fact for the bee-and-wasp-fearing crowd — cicadas do not sting or bite. While their size and red eyes might make them look like they're up to no good, cicadas really are just trying to find a willing mate to make tiny cicadas nymphs with.

Cicada's the 17 year locusts

12. They're One of the Longest-Living Insects

Although they're not the longest living bugs — that honor goes to splendour beetles and termite queens, which can live up to 30 and 50 years, respectively — cicadas are one of the insects with the longest time spent here on Earth. Once they mate after emerging, however, they will die off. (And their offspring will surface in 13 or 17 years.)

New Zealand Cicade on Leaf with Green Background

13. They've Long Been a Symbol of Rebirth

As the National Museum of Asian Art noted in a 2016 article, cicadas have long been associated with "rebirth and immortality," especially in China, where centuries ago they were considered creatures of high status and were even represented on the headgear of some rulers and nobility.

Red Locust

14. Cicadas Are Often Confused With Locusts

People often mistake cicadas for locusts "because they emerge in massive numbers like true locusts. Locusts are grasshoppers," noted Matta, "(and) are known to chew and eat most vegetation they come across." However, unlike destructive and plague-causing locusts, "cicadas are generally harmless" to the environment, Matta added. "Cicadas are a natural and beneficial part of the food chain and ecosystem. The mass emergence of periodical cicadas is a phenomenon that is incredible to witness."