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Billions of Periodical Cicadas are Hatching

It has been 17 years since a set of billions of periodical cicadas emerged from their underground chambers and filled the air with boisterous buzzing and desperate mating calls.

Brood X (pronounced Brood 10) is the largest emergence of the dozen periodical hatchings. The emergence will occur from northern Georgia to Pennsylvania.

According to Dr. Nancy Hinkle cicada enthusiast and professor of veterinary entomology at the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, the average person only gets about four or five opportunities during their lifetime to experience Brood X.

However, if you want to experience this phenomenon, you will have to travel to north Georgia. Dr. Hinkle estimates that the periodical cicadas will emerge in only about 10 Georgia counties in the northeastern part of the state. Even then, there may only be a few spots where they can be found.

Although they arrive in large numbers throughout a short six-week span beginning in May, cicadas are harmless to humans and pets.

According to Dr. Hinkle, they do not bite. They do not sting and are not poisonous. You can even catch and handle them.

Most of the seemingly endless vibrations and buzzing that fill the air comes from the males serenading their potential mates with an echoing chorus that must be louder than their competition. The females echo back with clicking sounds generated from their wings.

Fortunately, most of these exchanges only take place during the day.

This group of periodical cicadas has lived in underground burrows for 16 and half years. When they emerge, the adults will breed, lay eggs and die.

According to Dr. Hinkle, the only time they are above ground is for about 6 weeks. They don’t feed as adults, so they are only using the energy that they stored when they were underground.

While burrowing up from the soil, cicadas bring large concentrations of nutrients back to the surface, aiding plant growth and becoming food for various animal populations.

At first, the pale-colored cicada population arrives without wings before shedding their thin exoskeleton. These exoskeletons can be found latched onto trees.

The periodical cicadas are black with dazzling red eyes. The annual cicadas that come out each year, are greenish in color.

After mating, the female periodical cicada will lay her eggs in tree branches. Shortly after, the eggs will hatch and the new nymphs will fall to the ground and burrow into the soil. Thus, starting their life underground for 16 and a half years.

This column appeared in The Courier Herald newspaper on May 12, 2021. Written by Raymond Joyce, County Extension Agent, Laurens County.

For more information on periodical cicadas, see the active map of U.S. broods. Find more resources from the UGA Department of Entomology at ent.uga.edu.