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Billions of cicadas have waited 17 years for 2021

Published Jan 26th, 2021 11:27PM EST
Image: Valeriy Kirsanov/Adobe

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  • Cicadas are incredibly interesting insects, and some species spend many years underground before eventually emerging to take flight.
  • A massive brood of cicadas that have been waiting underground for a whopping 17 years is about to emerge on the East Coast of the United States.
  • The cicadas will climb trees and then shed their shells to reveal wings, allowing them to travel long distances and find mates.

2020 took a lot out of all of us, but it didn’t have any biblical-style plagues, which is honestly a surprise. If you live in states on or near the East Coast of the United States, you might find that your 2021 has what 2020 lacked as billions of 17-year cicadas are set to emerge from the ground and start exploring the world for the first time.

As Newsweek reports, the cicadas have been a long time coming, and this brood is expected to be absolutely massive in scale. The cicadas are likely to appear in 15 US states, mostly along the East Coast but extending as far west as Illinois. The bugs, while not dangerous to humans, are known to make quite a disturbance thanks to their incredibly loud shrieking.

This 17-year brood is expected to appear in Delaware, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Maryland, Michigan, North Carolina, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia, and Washington, D.C., but could extend to neighboring states in some cases. As the label suggests, these cicadas were last seen 17 years ago, in 2004, and have been maturing underground for nearly two decades.

The cicada nymphs will scale trees after emerging from the ground, latching on and then metamorphosizing into their adult form. The adults, which are equipped with wings, will then set out in search of mates. The incredible sounds they make are associated with the mating process, and once they mate, their lives are on a timer. Once the insects lay eggs, they will die off. The juveniles will hatch and proceed to live the next 17 years underground until it’s their time in the spotlight.

What’s so interesting about cicadas — aside from the fact that they live long lives underground and only appear above the surface for a short period — is that some broods have developed differing cycles. For example, in the United States alone there are thought to be over a dozen specific broods. Some of them are the 17-year cicadas while others have lifecycles that last 13 years instead.

In some states, the range of the various broods overlaps, meaning that people in those regions will see large brood “booms” more often than others. There are also annual cicadas that have a two- to five-year life cycle and are seen every summer once the temperature reaches a certain point. However, this coming summer will be much more active for cicadas in the states where the 17-year brood is ready to make its debut.