Massive swarm of cicadas emerge for first time after 17 years underground

Billions or perhaps even trillions of cicadas are making a long-anticipated return across the USA.

The ‘spectacular event’ occurs every 17 years when the tiny insects emerge from below ground and blanket Washington D.C and some 15 states, from New York to Georgia and Illinois.

But once the red-eyed periodical cicadas – known as Brood X – come out, they only live for about three weeks, allowing them to mate before they die.

In another 17 years time, their young – known as nymphs while underground – will appear again in one of the natural world’s rarest phenomenons.

Now the animals, also called Brood 10 – and the accompanying symphony of noise they produce – have started emerging in parts of the eastern United States.

Dr Michael Raupp, a cicada enthusiast and professor emeritus of entomology at the University of Maryland, said: ‘This is just a spectacular event. I mean, there’s nothing else like this on the entire planet Earth, even in the entire universe.

‘This is the only place anywhere that we have 13 and 17-year cicadas emerging by the billions, if not trillions.’

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The 3.8cm long black insects, which have iridescent wings and bright red eyes, are being seen for the first time by most people born this century.

Dr Raupp said the insects are found in larger numbers in areas where there are more mature trees, and where the insects were plentiful in previous cicada cycles.

But despite being eaten en masse, the sheer number of cicadas overwhelms predators and mean they survive in their droves.

They tend to thrive in sunlit forest edges, which often provide the warmer weather and younger trees most ideal for them to lay their young.

Periodical cicadas burrow into the ground after hatching, some digging as far as 8 feet (2.4 meters) below ground.

While underground, the nymphs suck the sap from tree roots and after 17 years, they emerge and climb trees and shrubs, where they shed their crunchy skins and harden into maturity.

The males make a cacophony of sounds in the tree tops as they try to find a mate.

Once the cicadas have mated, the females cut slits into tree branches, where they deposit 400 to 600 eggs.

The adults quickly die, but the eggs hatch a few weeks later to restart the cycle. This year’s young will bore into the ground and won’t emerge again until 2038.

The animals are not harmful to pets or humans, and some people even go on a ‘cicada safari’ in their own back garden, as encouraged by Dr Raup.

He added: ‘There will be birth. There will be death. There will be romance in the treetops. It’s going to be better than an episode of Game of Thrones… So go out and enjoy the cicadas.’

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