Cue the mid-20th century horror flick soundtrack; the 2021 cicada apocalypse is coming!
Cicadas are one of America's most peculiar insects, and not just for their looks! These funky flyers spend most of their lives underground. But every decade or so, a cicada brood will come swarming up from their subterranean tunnels and hives to sing, mate with each other, crawl on things, lay their eggs, fly around, sing some more, then die. And since there are several documented broods in existence in the U.S., this can often lead to frequent swarms of cicadas!
Though each summer usually brings out some cicadas from a brood or two, 2021 is shaping up to be a year for the record books. Across the Northeast, Midwest, and Southeast, we've heard reports from local news stations and cicada fan clubs that Brood X (the largest of the 15 periodical cicada broods on record) is preparing to emerge this summer!
Brood X is not only the largest of the cicada broods in terms of its total population of cicadas (we're talking millions of individual bugs), but Brood X is also the most widespread. This brood is scheduled to swarm up out of the ground in states all across the eastern U.S. during the late spring and early summer of 2021. After this year, we won't see this mega-brood again until 2038.
Summer 2021 - Upcoming Cicada Outbreaks
After we heard the news in a CBS News report, we went to Cicada Mania to get the latest scoop on Brood X. Cicada Mania utilizes a network of volunteer cicada enthusiasts across the eastern U.S. to monitor and report cicada activity. According to their updates, folks are already seeing Brood X cicadas in North Carolina, Georgia, New Jersey, Maryland, Tennessee, and Virginia.
As the temps heat up and the days get longer, drier, and sunnier, Brood X will likely come out in full force in the last week of May and during most of June. Cicadas usually emerge when the soil temperature reaches 64 degrees Fahrenheit, often after a heavy rain.
According to Cicada Safari, Brood X is expected to first emerge in the southern states any day now. Brood X swarms are expected to come streaming out of the ground in Indiana and Ohio in late May, and a week later, they will emerge in Maryland, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey. Brood X is expected to come out as far north as Michigan in the Midwest and Long Island, NY in the Northeast.
While Brood X will be the most significant cicada brood to emerge this year, it might not be the only one. If you live east of the Mississippi River and south of the 45th Parallel, odds are you'll see a Brood X cicada or a cicada from another brood that is also making a brief emergence this year.
How Loud is a Cicada, Really?
The most notable characteristic of a cicada is by far its shrill, ringing song. In a word, cicadas are LOUD. To compare the cicada song to other instantly recognizable noises, we made a simple list of comparable sounds below. The call of a cicada can reach 120 decibels at close range. Here are a few other things that emit a similar loudness:
Popping a large balloon
22 caliber rifle
It's amazing that such a small creature can emit such a powerful sound!
Sing, Fly, Mate, Die! - The Exciting Life of a Cicada
Cicadas have a pretty interesting life cycle. They live underground for about a decade, creating intricate tunnel networks and subterranean caverns. They sleep, tunnel, search for food, and grow their colonies. Then, almost without any warning or indication, they tunnel up to the surface, emerging and taking flight into the air by the millions.
Once above ground, the cicada only lives for a few weeks. It flies around, sings, mates with other cicadas, and the females lay their eggs in trees. Then the adult cicadas die, often quite suddenly. What a way to go out with a bang!
The cicada eggs hatch shortly after the adults die off, and the newborn cicadas make their way down from the trees and into the soil below. The newborns will stay underground for years before emerging, ready to repeat the life cycle of their parents.
Fun Facts About America's Weirdest Bug
If the United States had a country fair for America's weirdest bug, cicadas would take home the blue ribbon! Here are more fun facts about these weird little dudes and dudettes:
1). Cicadas are born in the crevices of tree bark. But once they hatch, they don't stick around. They fall to the ground, burrow into the soil, and spend most of their life digging, tunneling, and feeding on plant roots.
2). Only the male cicada bugs emit the loud, shrill song the insect is known for. And you guessed it; it's definitely a mating call!
3). Cicadas look more like alien invaders than insects, but they are insects, just very unique ones. Cicadas come from the "Hemiptera" insect family.
4). Female cicadas are sometimes attracted to the sound of internal combustion engines. So if you get swarmed by cicadas whilst attempting to mow the lawn, don't get the wrong idea. It's your lawnmower they're interested in, not you!
5). With its shrill song reaching 120 decibels, the cicada is the loudest bug in the world.
Don't Worry, Cicadas are the Good Guys!
Though some people find cicadas to be annoying (they are kind of like an alien invasion, after all), cicadas are not considered pests. In fact, a cicada swarm in any region provides ecological benefits for that region. Quoting the researchers at Cicada Safari:
"Periodical cicada years are quite beneficial to the ecology of the region. Their emergence tunnels in the ground acts as a natural aeration of the soil. The large number of adult cicadas provides a food bonanza to all sorts of predators, which can have a positive impact on their populations. The females’ egg-laying in trees is a natural pruning of the trees that results in the tree producing more flowers and fruit in the following year. Finally, after the cicadas die their decaying bodies contribute a massive amount of nitrogen and other nutrients to the soil."
A cicada swarm may catch us off guard and even be a cause for alarm (especially when one lands on your face!) but cicadas are far more help than hindrance.
Celebrate and Survive the Swarm with Vintage Poster Art!
To celebrate Brood X's appearance on the stage of cicada performances everywhere, Anderson Design Group's award-winning poster artists hand-rendered vintage designs of cicadas invading. The illustrations were inspired by a combination of 1950's horror movie poster art, late-20th century arcade video game art, comic book art, vintage poster art, and sci-fi movie art.
Every original design from the Cicada Invasion Collection is available as an art print, canvas, banner, metal sign, notecard, postcard, or mini canvas. Decorate in a style and size of your choosing, and put a little memento of the 2021 invasion on your wall.
Until next time, if you need us, we'll be outside snapping photos of Nashville's 2021 cicada invasion! What's next? Flying pigs?!
- Ren Brabenec
Anderson Design Group Writing Staff