News & Politics

Just When You Thought You Were Safe . . . the Cicadas Are Back

Expect showers of cicada nymphs to rain from the trees for the next few weeks

Photograph by Lacy L. Hyche, Auburn University, Bugwood.org

As if to complement this month’s frustrating Covid backslide, the universe has put cicadas back on the docket. Dealing with their lawnmower-level loudness and crunching carcasses on the sidewalk for a month wasn’t enough apparently, as we now have to watch out for cascades of their offspring. For the next few weeks, BILLIONS of juvenile cicadas will fall out of their tree-borne nests to burrow into the ground and continue their life cycle.

How much is this going to suck? Well, depends on your perspective. Cicada nymphs are incredibly small, with most measuring just about two millimeters — about half the width of a pencil eraser for context. This means that, though they are constantly raining down from tree branches, they’re probably too tiny for you to notice them. If your biggest issue with cicadas is how noisy and ugly they are (the nymphs don’t make grating mating calls like their parents), then this is fantastic news. If your biggest issue with the cicadas is the potential of a bug landing on you, now might be an excellent time to invest in a military-grade tactical helmet.

The best way to avoid nymph showers is to avoid trees with unusual clusters of dead leaves. The phenomenon—called “flagging”—occurs when female cicadas have cut incisions in the branches to lay eggs, and is most common in oak and beech trees. Luckily, this baby cicada rainstorm is evidence we’re close to saying au revoir to these buggy buggers for a good 17 years. By late August, the tiny, white, red-eyed younglings should all have returned back to the ground, with some entering the same tunnels their parents built almost two decades earlier.

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Jane Recker
Assistant Editor

Jane is a Chicago transplant who now calls Cleveland Park her home. Before joining Washingtonian, she wrote for Smithsonian Magazine and the Chicago Sun-Times. She is a graduate of Northwestern University, where she studied journalism and opera.