Cicadas Among Us

You would never know it, but lying in the ground beneath trees are billions of bugs just waiting to emerge into daylight. The wait can be really long though, as in 17 years long! The telltale red eyes of the 17-year locust give away how long they have been patiently waiting to visit the earth above ground. Here is their story.

On warm spring nights they all begin to emerge together. Their numbers can be in the billions on a given year. As they finally pop their heads out above ground after the long wait, they look for a tree or vertical post to climb. Once they find a spot that they deem acceptable, they will literally pop out of their skin and transform into the final adult stage of their lives. After a few days of rest, their wings fill out and their shells harden. Now they are ready to start their important job of reproducing.

The males begin the mating process by calling the females to them. They do this by popping organs on their abdomen called “tymbals” in and out. The synchronized chorus of cicadas has been called one of the loudest sounds in nature. Mating takes place over the next several weeks. During this time many cicadas will be eaten by animals or insects and will not survive, but their numbers are so large that the population always succeeds.

As a final act of her brief life as an adult, a female cicada will bore a deep hole into a tree branch and lay her eggs. After only 6 weeks since the masses of cicadas emerged from beneath the ground, they are all gone. Eggs the size of a grain of rice soon hatch, and the young cicadas drop to the ground beneath the tree and instinctively dig downward. The nymphs will spend their time beneath the surface feeding on juices they suck from the roots of trees. And so the 17-year waiting period goes.


The reason we can hear cicadas each and every year is because of the 150 different species of cicadas in the U.S, some will emerge on any given year. Scientists have studied the different species and they know what years will be the “big” years for different areas of the U.S. You can find this information at So as you sit out at night this summer and you hear the distinct shrill noise of the male cicada calling for a mate, know that there are probably many more in the ground beneath you just waiting for the right time.


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