Return of 17-Year Cicadas

As the Spring warms the air and welcomes the emergence of crawly creatures back into the light, the East Coast is beginning to buzz in anticipation of the return of periodical cicadas. From Georgia to New York, we can expect to see the winged bugs — Magicicadas — leave their underground burrows and emerge from their 17 year stay in the soil.

The unique behavior of cicadas has always been a point of interest in the scientific world, and some ancient cultures even revered them as symbols of rebirth. Our best modern speculation for why they disappear for so long is that so when they reappear, their various predators can’t possibly overpower such high numbers. As they arrive in swarms this Spring and then fade out by fall, at least researchers will be able to enjoy their brief presence.

The average person, however, may not enjoy them as much. Cicadas can be scary-looking to the uninitiated with their sizable black bodies, proud veiny wings, and distinctive, orangey-red eyes. They also seem a bit creepy because they always seem to travel en masse; at some point in most East Coasters’ lives, he or she has probably seen a couple of them against a tree or the side of a house. This summer, I expect to see more than a couple at a time, since apparently billions of them will emerge along the coast!

Never mind those features though. Those are all background noise, no pun intended, compared to what cicadas are really known for: that sound! Cicadas have distinctive mating songs that serve as a soundtrack to everyone’s summer nights. It’s a difficult sound to describe, but anyone who can’t fall asleep easily will be able to describe that sound that pierces bedroom windows all along the coast. The eerie, cacophonous buzzing and clicking can seem at times magical and at other times, downright annoying. At any rate, it’s a sound synonymous with Summertime, and this year we can expect to hear it more than ever.