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  • Pam Owen

NEWS: Magicicada are on their way to southwest Virginia

The pulsing sound of periodical cicadas will soon fill the air in southwestern Virginia as Brood IX emerges en masse.


Periodical cicadas, in the genus Magicicada, emerge every 13 or 17 years, depending on the brood, which can include up to all three of the species in the genus; Brood IX is one of the 17-year species, as is Brood II, our local brood in Rappahannock County. Brood IX, which includes all three Magicicada species, extends from northwestern North Carolina to West Virginia and even into a few spots beyond.


All Magicicada species have long (1.5 inches) and husky bodies, and transparent wings with marked veins that create a beautiful design reminiscent of stained-glass art. Their demonic red eyes set them apart from the annual cicadas, which emerge in much-smaller numbers per acre every year and have dark eyes.

Periodical cicadas can be distinguished from annual cicadas, which emerge every year, by their demonic red eyes

Periodical cicadas spend all but a brief few weeks underground as nymphs, feeding on tree roots, but don't seem to have a big impact on trees, including crop trees. The females also can cause "flagging," damage to the ends of some tree branches, when they dig a trench in them to deposit their eggs. As with many insects, the only goal of the adults is to mate and produce the next generation, after which they die.

While the bugs don't bite or carry disease, their pulsating chorusing can be annoying, even painful to hear. This is especially for anyone with oak trees nearby, the bug's preferred tree. Perhaps up to a million periodical cicadas can emerge from a single acre of land, according to entomologists I've interviewed. The accumulation of carcasses left on the ground, combined with nymph husks (usually left on trees) can create quite a mess and lead to some pretty crunchy walking on some properties.


As periodical cicadas transform from nymphs into the adults, they leave the empty husks of the nymphs behind

On the up side, a lot of predators welcome the invasion for the high-protein banquet it offers. It's an especially good boost to a lot of predators raising young at the time the bugs appear. And we humans are also not above chowing down on cicadas, either out of a dare of because we like them (usually fried here in the South), as one entomologist I interviewed admitted. Some of our domestic canine and feline companions also chow down on them, although the bugs can cause digestive distress for these predators if they're not used to eating bugs.


Brood II last emerged in Rappahannock in 2013, so shouldn't show up again until 2030. This brood extends from western North Carolina to Connecticut. In 2013, I wrote a preview of their arrival for our local newspaper, then a followup in my "Wild Ideas" newspaper column once they arrived.


This month's Smithsonian magazine features periodical cicadas in an article titled "Cicadas Are Delightful Weirdos You Should Learn to Love." I totally agree and, as a huge bug lover, had a great time wandering around the county looking for them. Their preference for oaks, most of which have been logged out and not replaced where I live meant I heard few of them here.


For other bug lovers, the following websites have lots more info about these amazing creatures, including maps for the various broods:


Adventures in Nature

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