News & Politics

Cicadas Are the Next Plague That Will Keep You Indoors

Brood X is coming this spring.

Photograph by JMPhoto64 via iStock.

Gazillions of insects that have been underground since Britney married K-Fed will tunnel through the earth this spring. When they emerge, they’ll ruin young trees, delight food-motivated dogs, and just generally gross out a high percentage of the population. Yes, the cicadas of Brood X (pronounced “ten,” like they’re a freaking iPhone or something) are due back in the DC area (and most of the East Coast) this spring, possibly around late April or mid-May. Here’s what you need to know about the next plague:

What the hell are these things?

Brood X are 17-year cicadas of the genus Magicicada, and their above-ground life is brief: perhaps three or four weeks if no predator intervenes. They bore out of the earth once the soil temperature is above 64 degrees Fahrenheit, attach themselves to a vertical structure, and molt, leaving behind a ghastly empty shell. Within a few days they’re ready for action with cicadas of the opposite sex. Females will split bark on tree limbs, where they’ll deposit eggs. Their offspring later drop off the trees and burrow back into the earth, where most of Brood X will remain until 2038, which will coincidentally be a midterms year in Washington. The adults eventually die and their carcasses drop to the ground in great numbers and rot. Cicadas are completely harmless to humans, but one could argue they kind of suck to be around.

They’re loud.

As with certain species we could name, male cicadas are the loud ones. Their trademark thrum can be more ear-splitting than a lawnmower (speaking of which, using a lawn mower can confuse cicadas into thinking a group of their pals are nearby, inspiring them to drop upon you while you’re cutting grass. They don’t hurt humans but…yeesh).

Watch out for your young trees.

If you were blithe enough to plant trees or shrubs last year without consulting the annual cicada release schedule, you may want to purchase some netting to protect your investment.

Some members of Brood X visited in 2017.

Like bad guests, some Brood X cicadas arrived early in the first year of the Trump administration. They were the appetizer; we’ll get the full meal this spring. Speaking of which…

Yes, they’re edible.


Dogs love to eat them, as do birds, fish, and squirrels (see above). Some humans chow down on these things as well: Apparently, they taste like shrimp. We’ll take your word for it.

 

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Senior editor

Andrew Beaujon joined Washingtonian in late 2014. He was previously with the Poynter Institute, TBD.com, and Washington City Paper. His book A Bigger Field Awaits Us: The Scottish Soccer Team That Fought the Great War was published in 2018. He lives in Del Ray.