17-year-old Cicadas are due to arrive in Virginia

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Brood X, one of the largest groups of cicadas, comes up from underground where young cicadas, called ‘nymphs’ live for 17 years. (WYDaily/Photo courtesy of Pexels)

STATEWIDE — The cicada has a pretty wild lifecycle for an insect. Depending on the species, the alien-like bug can spend a decade or more underground consuming tree sap before emerging for a few weeks to mate before dying. While Virginia is used to experiencing summer cicadas, 2021 has an interesting surprise in store for the hot season: 

Trillions of cicadas. 

Brood X (X is the Roman numeral for 10) consists of 17-year-old cicadas. According to Entomologist and Communications Coordinator for the Department of Entomology at Virginia Tech, James Mason, these nearly two decade old insects will emerge within the next week or two. 

While there are many broods of periodic cicadas that appear on rigid schedules in different years, Mason said that this particular group is one of the largest, covering most Mid-Atlantic states. 

“These cicadas are black with reddish, orange eyes. Their song is different from the annual cicadas. Anyone who has experienced Virginia during the summer knows the cicadas’ chirp,” he said.

Mason added that the best way he could describe the Brood X song was as an “alien-like” drone. 

The cicadas emerge as teenagers, when the soil temperature reaches approximately 64 degrees Fahrenheit. They will dig mud holes to crawl out of, shed their skin and grow wings. The adult insects will then fly up into the trees where mating rituals occur. The males will sing to attract a mate, and it is up to the females to decide who will father their nymphs.

Emily Hoffman, an educator at the Virginia Living Museum, said that female cicadas can lay up to 400 eggs at one time.

The entire mating process for cicadas lasts about 6 to 8 weeks, according to Mason. 

While it is unlikely that any Brood X cicadas will be spotted in the Historic Triangle, Mason said that they will definitely be in northern Virginia and parts around Petersburg.

Hoffman also said that the Hampton Roads area typically sees annual cicadas or ones from Brood II or III; another group of 17-year cicadas, only that they are smaller than their Brood X counterparts.

“A lot of people are apprehensive, but they are harmless to humans and pets. They’re mostly just a nuisance pest, but this can be a fascinating thing. And every time the cicadas emerge, people are learning more about it,” Mason said. 

Here is a fun fact if you do happen across a cicada: they are edible. While Mason said that he has never eaten a cicada and doesn’t plan on trying one, he said that other cicada enthusiasts have told him they taste like shrimp.

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