Billions of cicadas are hatching: USA is waiting for a gigantic insect orgy

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Billions of cicadas are hatching
USA are waiting for a gigantic insect orgy

Many Americans are preparing for a rare natural spectacle these days. Every 17 years trillions of cicadas hatch in the eastern United States and make a deafening noise. Drivers better close their windows. The huge swarms do not cause any damage.

“It was like a science fiction film. Scary, like from another world.” Melanie Asher remembers the cicada invasion she experienced as a child in the Washington suburb of Bethesda in 1987. Billions of cicadas hatch simultaneously in the United States every 17 years. In a few weeks it will be that time again.

The larvae live in the ground for almost two decades before they emerge en masse and fill the air with deafening noise – in a vast area that stretches from Washington in the east to Illinois in the Midwest and Georgia in the south. Their above-ground life is short – just long enough to mate and lay eggs. This year, the cicadas are expected in May, or earlier depending on the weather in some regions.

The arrival of the thumb-sized insects with the red bulging eyes is as spectacular as it is rare. Melody Merin was last invaded in 2004 in Washington. “They just flew everywhere,” says the 46-year-old. It was difficult to escape them. Driving with the window open – unthinkable. Peter Peart from the Washington district of Columbia Heights has already seen the cicada spectacle twice. “It’s loud, all the time,” says the pensioner. Nevertheless, he is looking forward to the cicadas in a few weeks – especially the astonished faces of those who meet them for the first time.

“Pretty Unique”

“It’s pretty unique, really,” says evolutionary biologist John Cooley of the University of Connecticut at Hartford. “The cicadas simply have a 17-year life cycle.” It always runs the same. “As soon as the soil reaches a certain temperature, around 17 degrees Celsius, the larvae emerge from the soil and shed their skin,” explains the biologist. “Then they hang around in the vegetation for about a week.” Then they begin their “adult behavior,” as Cooley calls it. You could also call it a gigantic insect orgy. Because that’s what it’s all about: reproduction.

“The noise you hear is that of the males attracting the females,” says the scientist. The females lay their eggs on trees and die shortly afterwards. The ground is then littered with dead insects. After six to eight weeks, the larvae hatch and dig into the ground, where they feed on the sap of the tree roots for 17 years before the cycle begins again.

Swarms do no harm

“Billions and maybe even trillions” of cicadas are expected this spring, says Cooley. By appearing in large numbers and only at great intervals, the cicadas can escape predators. Because even if squirrels, birds, raccoons and dogs fill their bellies with the insects for days, enough cicadas will still survive.

Unlike a locust invasion, the swarms of cicadas do no harm. Only the spring, long awaited after a year of pandemic, could the insects spoil the people in the USA a bit. Together with thousands of noisy cicadas, a picnic in the park is only half as fun.

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