Cicadas Set To Swarm in "Once in a Lifetime Event"

Feb 7, 2024

Lifecycle of a Cicada

What do billions upon billions of the loudest insects in the world sound like? The US is about to find out.

Cicadas are large, black- or green-bodied, red-eyed flying bugs. They're a screeching staple of the American Midwestern summer. Some appear every year. Others, though, incubate below ground for more than a decade before crawling up into the light and searching for a mate. Two of the groups, or broods, appear only once every 13 and 17 years, respectively. And in 2024? They’re both taking to the sky from late April to June. They'll be seen and heard from Illinois to Virginia and down into Alabama and Mississippi.

"It's pretty much this big (stunningmacabre Mardi Gras," Jonathan Larson, a University of Kentucky entomologist, told NPR. "It's a lot of singing, lots of paramours pairing up, and then lots of dying."

The last time these two broods both emerged at the same time was 1803. “It’s (a very) rare, once-in-a-lifetime event," Floyd Shockey of the National Museum of Natural History said. He told NPR that even one of the broods’ appearances could cause measures like “having to remove them with shovels, to clear sidewalks and roads.”

The good news is that the cacophonous chorus of chittering cicadas will wane by the end of the summer. They mate fairly quickly. Then, females lay their eggs in trees. When the larvae hatch, they’ll drop to the ground and burrow in to wait 13 or 17 more years.

The bad news? After laying eggs, the cicadas die. They carpet the ground in a thick coating of carcasses that smells, as one expert put it, like “delicate, rotten Limburger cheese.”

Reflect: Why might it be important for us to know about insects and their patterns in nature?

Onomatopoeia is the process of creating a word that phonetically imitates, resembles, or suggests the sound that it describes. Which of the following phrases from the story contains an example of onomatopoeia? (Common Core RI.5.4; RI.6.4)
a. “red-eyed flying bugs”
b. “carpet the ground”
c. “screeching staple”
d. “coating of carcasses”
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