May 26, 2021

They’re baaack …

Brood X, also known as periodical, cicadas have begun emerging from their 17-year slumber and Susquehanna’s Matt Wilson urges us to sit back and enjoy the ride.

“These little guys can’t bite, they won’t eat your plants, and generally can’t cause any harm; they only bring joy in my opinion,” said Wilson, scientist with Susquehanna’s Freshwater Research Institute.

Cicadas are the masters of mass emergence, Wilson said. Depending on the species, they emerge every 13 or 17 years to mate. You might notice those are both prime numbers, and there are hypotheses to suggest that’s no coincidence.

“If you have a really long lifespan underground, then appear for just a few weeks after more than a decade AND do so on a prime number, it’s virtually impossible for any predator to maximize their consumption of you when you emerge,” Wilson explained. “This lack of predator adaption is particularly useful for cicadas because they can’t bite or really defend themselves in any way, so the only defense is for as many to pop out of the ground at once, fill every predator’s belly, and the remainders are free to move about and mate as they please.”

This brings us to another point about the cicada — they’re a tasty treat for everything from snakes and birds to rodents and wasps. “Everything eats cicadas,” Wilson said. “They are big, clumsy, full of protein, and have no defenses. Who wouldn’t want to grab that free meal?”

Humans can also get in on this trendy tapas — you just have to eat them at the right time. Cicadas are at their most appetizing immediately after they have emerged from the ground and shed their exoskeleton. At this stage they will appear white, with a few splotches of yellow.

“I’ve heard they taste like asparagus,” Wilson said. “I look forward to trying it this year!”

The cicada emergence has already begun at points south of central Pennsylvania. Wilson predicts we will begin seeing them in the next one to four weeks. They emerge when the soil temperature hits 64º F and prefer a good rain. They won’t all appear at once though, so combined with the “normal” cicadas we hear every summer, we can expect cicada summer to last until August.

Although they are big (1 to 2 inches with a wingspan of 3 to 4 inches) and loud (90 to 100 decibels or as loud as a lawn mower), Wilson urges us to soak in all nature has to offer.

“This is a truly incredible natural phenomenon that will only happen a few times in any of our lifetimes,” Wilson said. “Consider pulling up a lawn chair and marveling at it. It’s like a living version of Halley’s Comet that keeps you company for over a month. What on earth could possibly be better?”