Ah, the sounds of summer. Splashing waves at the beach, a lawn sprinkler spinning deliriously, the bells of an ice-cream truck … and the constant buzz of cicadas. If you live in certain states, get ready, because they’re coming back in 2024.
Cicadas, winged insects with an especially loud song, have a weird life cycle. They grow underground, but we humans mostly pay attention to them when they emerge into our above-ground world.
There are annual cicadas, which emerge from their underground life every year at various times. Then there are periodical cicadas, which emerge only every 13 or 17 years. Those groupings are called broods and are numbered. Because of their trackable schedule, these broods of periodical cicadas tend to steal all the headlines from their annual cicada comrades.
This summer, it’s a double-brood year. That’s rare. According to ScienceAlert, the last time it happened was in 1803. One brood on a 13-year-cycle — called Brood XIX — and another on a 17-year cycle — called Brood XIII — are expected to pop out of the ground in 2024.
Here’s what to know before they take over your neighborhood between May and June, including how to protect your hearing from all that cicada noise — and whether climate change could be responsible for be disrupting the cicada cycle.
What’s expected in 2024
Brood XIX, also called the Great Southern Brood, is the biggest brood of 13-year periodical cicadas, if you go by geographical distribution. It was last seen in 2011 in the Southeast US. Most periodical cicadas are on a 17-year cycle, but Brood XIX is on a 13-year cycle. The two other surviving 13-year broods are expected to return in 2027 and 2028.
This brood is expected to re-emerge in mid-May and stay around through late June. The cicadas tunnel to the surface, mate, lay their eggs and then die off. Look (and listen) for them in Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia.
Brood XIII is known as the Northern Illinois Brood. (Illinois seems to appeal to cicadas more than any other state. Experts at the University of Connecticut say that the Land of Lincoln “contains both 13- and 17-year life cycles, all seven currently recognized species, and five separate broods, some of which include disjunct populations.” Talk about the Big Noise from Illinois.
This is one of the 17-year cicada broods. It was last seen in 2007 and should be back from mid-May to late June, just like Brood XIX. They are expected to appear in Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Wisconsin and possibly Michigan.
The basics about cicadas
According to the EPA, cicadas are about 1 to 1.5 inches long, with a wingspan twice that length. They have black bodies, red-brown eyes and membranous wings with orange veins. The noise that makes them famous is the loud courting sound of the adult males.
The name of the species is pronounced differently in the US, where most people say “suh-KEI-duh,” than it is in the UK, where people tend to say, “suh-KAA-dah.”
What to do about the cicadas
Live and let live — they’re temporary and harmless. Cicadas may be noisy, but they don’t bite or sting. And unlike termites, they won’t chew their way into your house, though they could enter through open doors and windows as other insects can. In fact, pest-control experts say that pesticides don’t work on cicadas.
“It’s a waste of (pesticide), and it’s a danger to the environment just to spray down because you’re afraid of the cicadas,” one expert told CNET in 2021.
How can you manage the cicada noise?
The main problem with the cicadas is obvious: their constant buzzing noise. They’re around only for about six weeks, however, so experts have some ideas for how to keep the sound from driving you buggy.
These aren’t cicada-specific remedies, but they work. You might try noise-canceling headphones, white-noise machines or simple earplugs. You can also try some DIY soundproofing, such as weather-stripping foam tape.
Climate change and cicadas
Climate change brings rising global temperatures, and the cicadas aren’t working with a calendar, they’re reacting to temperatures. So it’s unsurprising that scientists believe climate change affects the cicadas as well.
Chris Simon, a professor in the department of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Connecticut, has studied and researched cicadas for years.
“Warmer winters and earlier springs will cause cicadas to come out earlier,” Simon told CNET. “Warming climates also increase the growing season in a given area so that cicadas may be ready to emerge from the ground years earlier — generally four years earlier — turning 17-year cicada populations into temporary 13-year cicadas. If this happens repeatedly, we hypothesize that 17-year cicadas could become permanent 13-year cicadas.”
But that change wouldn’t reduce the number of cicadas, Simon told CNET, just adjust their schedule. And it shouldn’t affect the food chain, because “the animals that eat them above ground would see them more often, and the animals that eat them underground would still do so,” Simon said.
While it’s possible that climate change could force the cicadas to move farther north, that won’t be an immediate change. Simon notes that periodical cicadas can move only as adults, and that can happen only for about for weeks every 13 or 17 years. While periodical cicadas can fly, they tend not to move much or migrate long distances. Human-made asphalt and cement obstacles could also prevent the cicadas from taking off to the great white north.
How you can help cicada researchers
Want to help scientists learn more about periodical cicadas?
“Citizen scientists are critical for filling in the parts of the distribution that we do not have time to visit or unknown parts of the distribution that we can later verify,” Simon told CNET.
To help you can download Cicada Safari for iOS or Android, a free app developed by Simon’s colleague Gene Kritsky. The app asks people to take a cicada photo using their phone, with geolocation allowed.
“(Kritsky’s) team will verify photos and log the data and share it with us,” Simon said.
How to protect new, small trees from cicadas
While cicadas shouldn’t hurt large, mature trees, new young trees may be vulnerable. Female cicadas like to lay their eggs on trees where new leaves are located, puncturing the branches and possibly causing leaves to wither, turn brown and even snap. So if you live in a cicada territory, hold off on planting any new trees until they’re gone, which should be in late June.
If you have new small trees and are worried about cicada damage, you may want to loosely wrap their trunks and the areas where twigs meet the branches. You can use cheesecloth, foil tape, barrier tape or sticky tape. You could also use landscaping nets around smaller trees. CNET has a guide to tree protection against cicadas.
People eat cicadas?
This last bit isn’t for everybody, but you can actually eat cicadas. Don’t even try it, though, if you have seafood allergies, because cicadas are related to shrimp and lobster.
If you’re made of tough stuff and don’t get easily queased-out by unusual foods, there are plenty of simple cicada recipes on the web. An expert from Johns Hopkins University says they’re “quite tasty” but admits “the yuck factor” might keep most of us from even trying.
The good news, though, is that if your dog wolfs a few down — and dog owners know some pups will eat literally anything — cicadas shouldn’t harm them. Just watch that they don’t choke from eating too many at once.