Cicadas Are Back

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    After a 17-year break, the periodic cicada occupation of the United States is fully underway. The red-eyed flying insects have emerged, split their exoskeletons are starting the intense, and loud, process of creating the next generation of periodic cicadas.

    Love them or loath them, there is no way to avoid seeing members of Brood X (as in the Roman numeral 10), as they come out by the billions, if not trillions, in 15 states in the East and Midwest.

    At a bus stop in Silver Spring, in May 2004 sisters Alex and Gabby Rhoades, along with some young school friends, spoke how they enjoyed playing with cicadas or how much they hated them.

    17 years later, they reflect on what the periodic invasion of their neighborhood means.

    “To see what I thought were enormous bugs kind of swarming my life, my backyard, you know, the bus stop I thought was terrifying, ” Alex said.

    In contrast, younger sister Gabby finds them fascinating. “I just think it’s so cool to see them leave their exoskeleton and turn out by now and then change color. So I remember playing them, playing with them a lot when I was younger,” she said.

    When they emerge from the soil, they shed their exoskeletons on trees and walls, leaving husks in their wake. And they can go everywhere: trees, doorsteps, sidewalks, cars and even on people who don’t shoo them away.

    Many places already are overloaded, with singing bugs covering walls and trees.

    And then there are the eerie songs. The noise can sound like the soundtrack to a bad science fiction movie, but it’s actually the males’ mating call. The creatures are like hormone-hopped teenagers, said University of Maryland bug expert Mike Raupp, whose own neighborhood is already in full cicada explosion.

    “For 17 years they’ve been underground living a COVID-like existence, social distancing,” Raupp said. “But in the 17th year they come up, usually at nightfall they make a mad dash to the trunk of a tree or another vertical structure. Their exoskeleton or skin splits open and the beautiful adult cicada comes out.”

    Some people are spooked by them. Other people, like Raupp, eat them. Chefs have recipes.

    In 2021, Gabby Rhoades decided to try her hand at baking chocolate chip cicada cookies.

    Most of these bugs will get eaten, but not by people. Birds, snakes, dogs, cats and even ants can feast on them.

    These bugs have been coming out like this for millions of years. And the United States _ with two small exceptions _ is the only place that gets cicadas that come out every 17 or 13 years. Other places get them every year.

    “I think everyone can relate to someone in that (2004) video,” said Alex Rhoades.

    The bugs will be gone by around July 4, after the female lay eggs in tree branches. The eggs will hatch in July and August, the baby bugs will tumble to ground, burrow below the soil, feed off tree roots and stay hidden until 2038.

    Enjoy, or fear them, while you can.

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