If you’ve been following scientific and environmental news lately, chances are you’ve heard a good deal about cicadas. That’s because every 17 years, billions of these insects descend upon the U.S., simultaneously damaging and benefiting the environment. This current batch of cicadas – dubbed Brood X – emerged from underground in emerged in May, and will mostly have died off by the beginning of this month. So, in honor of Brood X’s departure, here are 17 fun facts about cicadas that everyone should know, courtesy of our pest control experts at Frame's Pest Control, Inc..
17 Fun Facts About the 17-Year Cicadas
- There are many different kinds of cicadas: While the17-year cicadas may be getting all the press right now, there are actually around 3,400 species of cicadas on earth. Brood X falls into the group known as “periodical” cicadas, which emerge in intervals of 13 and 17 years.
- Cicadas will not come out unless the ground is warm enough: The reason cicadas generally emerge in late Spring is because that’s when the ground starts to warm up. The soil temperature needs to be roughly 65F before cicadas can successfully come up from underground. While cicadas traditionally have not come out until late May, this year, some started to emerge in mid-May, likely due to the effects of climate change.
- Cicadas are extremely distinct-looking: Part of the reason cicadas get so much press is because they are hard to miss. Reaching up to 2 inches in length, these insects have orange, veiny wings, and bulging red eyes.
- Brood X is technically Brood 10: All the way back in 1898, cicada broods were assigned Roman numerals based on when and where they were to emerge. 1-17 were designated for the 17-year cicadas, while 18-30 were designated for cicadas following a 13-year cycle.
- This is the largest batch of 17-year cicadas yet: With a presence in over 15 U.S. states from the Midwest to New York, Brood X is made up of billions if not trillions of cicadas. In fact, you could track them at roughly 1.3 million insects per acre.
- They have specific circadian rhythms: Cicadas have internal clocks that are calibrated based on environmental factors. While it’s not known exactly how they measure time, changes in the environment can throw their circadian rhythms off. That’s how you end up with situations like a batch emerging early in Cincinnati in 2007, where unseasonably warm temperatures were followed by a deep freeze.
- They are incredibly loud: Cicadas use organs on the side of their body called tymbals to amplify the sound coming from their hollow abdomens. This noise is emitted at roughly 96 decibels, which is louder than the sound of most aircrafts. Prolonged exposure to the sound cicadas make could even cause permanent hearing damage. However…
- Not all cicadas make noise: Female cicadas actually do not emit the same calls that males do. Instead, their mating calls are just tiny clicking noises.
- Female cicadas may be attracted to noisy objects: Because the call of the male cicadas is so loud, there have been some reports of female cicadas being attracted to loud objects, like power tools and lawnmowers.
- Cicadas are extremely sex-driven: Because some male cicadas are affected by a fungus that causes their genitals to falls off, they spend a lot of their time pursuing sex. The goal of this sexual activity actually isn’t to mate, it’s to spread this fungus. Some male cicadas will even make clicking sounds, like females, in order to attract a partner and release this fungal matter.
- Cicadas cannot eat solids: Much like aphids or bed bugs, cicadas don’t have chewing mouths, instead surviving on liquid from tree tissue and roots. This liquid is then released when they urinate, leading to a squirting that some people call “cicada rain.”
- Cicadas can damage trees: Unsurprising considering that no one wants to get hit with cicada rain, these insects are not beloved by a good many. Some will even take vacations to avoid them. They can also damage trees, as branches will die when females lay their eggs in them.
- Cicadas also do a lot of good for the environment: While cicadas may cause some aesthetic damage to trees, they also provide natural pruning, help predator populations, and return nutrients to the soils when their bodies fall to the ground.
- Cicadas die after mating: Once a male cicada has successfully mated, it will fall to the ground and die. Female cicadas also die during this mating cycle, after they have laid their eggs.
- Cicadas have a very long lifespan: While they do die after mating, cicadas have some of the longest lifespans of any insect. While only a tiny fraction of their lives is spent above ground, their 13-17 year life cycle, including the time spent below ground, is one of the things that makes them so remarkable. That said, it has been reported that Brood X has been killed off quicker than other batches of periodical cicadas, likely due to environmental factors such as deforestation.
- Cicadas are not locusts: While often described in the same plague-like terms, cicadas are not the same as locusts. This is a common misconception, but locusts are actually a type of grasshopper, while cicadas fall into the “true bug” family (i.e. bugs that cannot chew.)
- You can eat cicadas: Cicadas have been described as having a very “green” flavor, due to the fact they derive so much of their nutrients from tree roots. They are a good source of protein, and some have said they taste like asparagus (granted, given all the other sources of protein there are out there, we don’t necessarily recommend putting this to the test.)