This summer, the deafening mating cry of the cicada is returning to a wooded Virginia area near you. And there’s absolutely nothing terrifying about literally billions of fairly good-sized insects in heat and screaming as loudly as their little insect lungs will let them.
Brood V, as this year’s crop is known, have had a 17-year life span and spent the entire 21st century underground in Ohio, New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia. And when nighttime soil temps hit 64 degrees for four consecutive days beginning next month or possibly this month, as many as 1.5 million of these creepy crawlies will emerge from their hiding places to mate and lay eggs. That’s per acre, by the way.
Three to five weeks after the cicadas have been above ground, they die. But man, those three to five weeks are like one continuous spring break in Cancun for these little guys. Once the hot cicada-on-cicada action concludes, females can lay as many as 400 eggs apiece. The cicada eggs then hatch and the ant-sized nymphs will head underground to suck sap from tree roots just like their parents, not to emerge until spring 2033.
Unlike the greenish-black cicadas that resurface every year and make a ch-ch-ch-ch sound, the 17-year periodical cicadas are black and orange and produce a continuous buzzing sound. And it’s not just a brief annoyance. It’s continuous and it’s loud. Very loud. Near some wooded areas, it can be difficult to hear someone speaking to you.
I mean, I’ve had apartment neighbors that liked to have loud sex, but it was never that bad.
What about in Richmond, though? Can the city expect to be inundated with loud, horny pests? Or will that continue to be contained to Shockoe Slip on Friday nights?
I took these questions to NBC-12 meteorologist and self-proclaimed “cicada expert” Andrew Freiden.
“Some cicadas come out to breed every year and it’s a sound that for many signals ‘summer,’” he says. “But the real excitement is when the 17-year cicadas show up. … This year that’ll happen in West Virginia and not for us.”
The insect-breeding aficionado Freiden continues: “It happened here in 2013 when forested areas in Goochland, Powhatan and all of western Virginia were filled with more loud, annoying mating calls than a Melissa and Jack ‘Second Date’ segment on 103.7 Play.”
Excitement, eh? Thanks Andrew.
Weather and bugs. Something tells me he wasn’t like the other children.
So we’re not in that much danger of being caught in the midst of a cicada orgy — this year, at least. What I fear, and I think most rational humans would agree, is what will happen when these cicadas realize that life is not all about getting some of that sweet cicada sexy-time. They’re giant bugs and they have numbers. If a leader could emerge — like a Fidel Castro of the cicadas — they could take over huge tracts of the Northeast.
Think about it. Billions of bugs. We can’t fight that. We must submit to our new cicada rulers. And I, for one, welcome our new insect overlords.
Admittedly, that probably won’t happen, because like teenage Jack, these bugs cannot stop thinking about sex. It’s all they want to do. Also like Jack, they had to wait many years in a sad underground hole, or in Jack’s case, his bedroom.
When asked to comment on the forthcoming scourge, a cicada representative simply replied, “Eeeeeeeeeee!”
Pressed further, the cicada added, “Eeeeeeeeeee!”
Asked to elaborate, he went on to say, “ZZZEeeeeeeeeee.”
I couldn’t have said it better myself.
So will any good come of this cicada invasion? For that I went back to area cicada enthusiast Freiden.
“Sometimes you’ll find translucent cicada ‘shells’ hanging onto trees with nothing inside,” he tells me. “That’s the outside of the larva that it sheds as it emerges as an adult with wings. If you find one intact, you can gently remove it and then scare your sister by having it ‘grab’ onto her. Even with no animal inside, it’ll hold on to someone’s clothes if you attach it gently.”
I love it.
If you need me I’ll just be over here hiding cicada skins in my girlfriend’s purse. S
Jack Lauterback also is co-host of “Mornings with Melissa and Jack” on 103.7 Play weekdays from 6-9. Connect with him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter at jackgoesforth.