What’s the Buzz? 17-year Cicadas Make Their Presence Felt


It was a spring to remember. A season for the ages. An experience of a lifetime… well, 17 years anyway. The Brood VI, 17-year cicadas emerged from their underground nursery after a heavy rainfall during late April and stayed front and center around Lake James through the first week of June. The resulting swarms of red-eyed bugs overwhelmed the senses and created an auditory spectacle that lasted through the first few days of June. Known locally as “locusts,” the two species, Magicicada septendecim and Magicicada septendecula are members of 190 different types of periodic cicadas in North America. Some of those are on shorter life cycles than others, 5-7 years, and a few that are known to emerge once every 20 years. The recent emergence took place across the southern Appalachian region, from North Carolina to Georgia.  The areas around Lake James were some of the most heavily infested in the region.

The vast majority of the cicada’s life is spent underground in the nymph stage. There in the darkness, the nymphs grow slowly on the fluids flowing through tree roots. Studies have shown there is a 98-percent mortality rate for cicada nymphs during their first two years of life. Things don’t get any easier when the nymphs dig their way to the surface and shed their skins for the last time to start the short, adult stage. During the 6- to 8-week period remaining in their lives, cicadas are at the top of the menu for just about every bird, mammal, insect and fish that can fit one in its mouth. It’s only the sheer number of cicadas that emerge around the same time that ensures enough eggs are laid for the next generation. Females lay their eggs underneath the bark at the ends of branches of hardwood trees. The twigs impregnated with eggs soon die and will eventually fall to the ground, bringing the newly hatched baby cicadas into contact with the dirt where they will bury themselves and remain, unseen, for the next 17 years. Although the adult cicadas are gone, you can easily see the browned tips of the tree branches where their eggs have been laid.

Love em or hate em, Brood VI won’t be back until the spring of 2034. Until then, enjoy the silence.