Billions of winged teenagers will crawl out of the ground, sing their hearts out and fall in love this summer.
As crazy as that sounds, it’s reality for the Brood II cicadas that only come around once every 17 years. The insects are found only in eastern North America, and nowhere else in the world.
This photo provided by the University of Connecticut, shows a cicada in Pipestem State Park in West Virginia on May 27, 2003. Any day now, cicadas with bulging red eyes will creep out of the ground after 17 years and overrun the East Coast with the awesome power of numbers. Big numbers. Billions. Maybe even a trillion. For a few buggy weeks, residents from North Carolina to Connecticut will be outnumbered by 600 to 1. Maybe more. And the invaders will be loud. A chorus of buzzing male cicadas can rival a jet engine.(AP Photo/University of Connecticut, Chirs Simon)
Known as magicicada, they have been maturing underground for 17 years, slurping on fluid from the roots of trees. The magic number seems to be 64 degrees: They won’t come out until the soil is that temperature, according to two local experts.
The phenomenon: Soil in Cumberland County was 48 degrees over the weekend, said Ed Dix, a forester with the Pennsylvania Bureau of Forestry. So the area still has till about late May or early June before the swarm, he said.
Adult cicadas are 1 to 1-1/2 inches long and have red eyes. Not to be confused with the more common annual cicadas, which look like huge, green flies, magicicadas are both smaller and much rarer.
“They’re definitely going to be noticeable,” said Timothy Abbey, of Penn State Cooperative Extension.
As daunting as billions of huge flies might seem, the bugs are mostly harmless.
Abbey said the insects are plant feeders and not much of a bother to crops. They don’t bite or damage property, but since females lay their eggs in the delicate twigs of deciduous trees, branches can break off and leaves might turn brown.
“But they’re not really a pest: They’re actually a beneficial thing when they come out,” Abbey said, as birds and small mammals like to snack on them.
The cicada way: These periodical cicadas have garnered the nickname “17-year locusts,” even though they’re not locusts, which are a type of grasshopper. When colonists settled in America, they hadn’t seen cicadas before and saw them as the locusts from the biblical plague, Dix said.
After the males emerge, they’ll begin to “sing” constantly. After about 10 days, mating will begin and females will deposit about 600 eggs. It’s a short party, and in just a few weeks, the adults will die and the hatchlings will return to the ground and restart the cycle.
But it is a big production, and the males’ song is loud and unmistakable. Dix said not to pay them too much mind.
“It’s just a bunch of 17-year-old males singing in a tree trying to find a mate,” he said matter-of-factly.
In York: The region the cicadas choose depends largely on how dense its woods are: The more trees, the more cicadas. Dix said areas east of the Susquehanna River have the most chance of a large influx.
“York County actually might have very little impact,” he said.
Their next return to York will be in 2021 in the form of Brood X, the largest of eight broods in the state.
Visit www.magicicada.org for maps and more information about the incoming cicadas.
Reported by MOLLIE DURKIN of The York Dispatch from YORK, PA. Reach her at email@example.com.