The Plague of Cicadas

We’ve made Ars Technica! There Celia Ford reports:

Brace yourselves, Illinoisans: A truly shocking number of cicadas are about to live, make sweet love, and die in a tree near you. Two broods of periodical cicadas—Brood XIX on a 13-year cycle and Brood XIII on a 17-year cycle—are slated to emerge together in central Illinois this summer for the first time in over two centuries. To most humans, they’re an ephemeral spectacle and an ear-splitting nuisance, and then they’re gone. To many other Midwestern animals, plants, and microbes, they’re a rare feast, bringing new life to forests long past their death.

From Nebraska to New York, 15 broods of periodical cicadas grow underground, quietly sipping watery sap from tree roots. After 13 or 17 years (depending on the brood), countless inch-long adults dig themselves out in sync, crawling out of the ground en masse for a monthlong summer orgy. After mating, they lay eggs in forest trees and die, leaving their tree-born babies to fall to the forest floor and begin the cycle anew. Cicadas don’t fly far from their birthplace, so each brood occupies a distinct patch of the US. “They form a mosaic on the landscape,” says Chris Simon, senior research scientist in ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Connecticut.

It isn’t just cicadas. Entomologists, too, will be descending on us, well, like a swarm of cicadas:

Entomologists around the world already have their flights booked for May. “We’re like cicada groupies,” Lill says. He promises that this once-in-a-generation spectacle will be even better than April’s total solar eclipse. During 2004’s Brood X emergence, Lill remembers walking outside at midnight. “For two seconds, I was like, ‘Wow, I didn’t know it was raining,’ because I saw water flowing down the street. As my eyes focused, I realized it was literally just thousands of cicadas crawling across the street.”

I suspect the biggest challenge for me will be keeping my dogs from chasing and eating cicadas (and vice versa). Maybe I’ll just surrender and reduce their diets commensurately.

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