News & Politics

Could the Cicadas Come Early?

People are reporting sightings around Washington. Those are cicada nymphs, and they're probably just taking a look around for now.

A Brood X cicada, supposedly. Photograph by PointandClick via iStock.

The reports are starting to fly on social media: One person says they’re seeing cicadas begin to emerge in White Marsh. Another says he’s found holes in his backyard. After a warm weekend, cicada lovers and cicada haters are already beginning to wonder: Will Brood X appear before May? The bugs will appear when soil a foot below the surface reaches 64 degrees, and soil closer to the sun seems to be warming up already in this region.

Hold your cicada takes: “We are getting reports too but we are pretty sure this is not the emergence,” says Dr. Paula Shrewsbury, a professor in the University of Maryland’s entomology department who’s part of its “Cicada Crew.” Those holes are properly called “galleries” and are made by nymphs moving up, taking a look around, and then returning to the soil about six to ten inches down. “It seems the nymphs are getting as ready as they can so when the soil hits 64 degrees they are ready,” Shrewsbury says.

So: If your adventurous dining plans for 2021 include “shrimp of the sky,” or if you’re hurriedly putting netting around your young trees, you still have a bit more time. “I think what people are seeing are the cicada nymphs right at the surface,” Shrewsbury says, “but they are not ready to emerge yet.”

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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.