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Planet Earth

The Cicada Emergence Is Likely Unavoidable, But There Are No Real Threats

More than a trillion cicadas are about to surface in parts of the southeast and midwestern United States, but experts say they don't pose a threat to humans. Here’s why their emergence is likely unavoidable - and how to best prepare for it.

By Lily CareyMay 2, 2024 10:00 AM
Cicadas on a fence
(Credit: Jeff Herge/Getty Images)


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Though they spend the vast majority of their lives in hiding, cicadas will be all the buzz this spring as they prepare to return to the surface in enormous numbers. 

Over the next several weeks, in the spring of 2024, billions (and possibly more than a trillion) of cicadas will emerge from the ground in what some experts are calling “cicada-geddon.” Yet while John Cooley, a biologist at the University of Connecticut, says he’s noticed apprehension about this historic co-emergence, he says it won’t pose any threat to humans or animals. 

“Cicadas are a natural part of the ecosystems in the forest,” Cooley says. “These species have a history that goes back millions of years. They don't destroy anything.” 

Avoiding the Cicada Emergence

In the face of such large numbers of cicadas, it’s going to be almost impossible to avoid the upcoming emergence, unless you’re willing to flee to the West Coast. Simply put, if you live within the range of either of these broods, the cicadas will be nearly everywhere. 

Read More: The 2024 Cicada Emergence Is Coming, Here’s Everything to Know

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, though. Periodical cicadas have been emerging at the end of every life cycle for millions of years, and Cooley says they’ve never caused any damage to their natural surroundings, least of all to humans.  

While they’re known to lay their eggs in some twigs and tree branches, it’s easy to take steps to protect your plants. 

Locating the Cicadas

Brood XIX will emerge mainly in the southeast and midwest, ranging from Washington D.C. in the east to Missouri in the west. Brood XIII cicadas will mostly be seen in northern Illinois, southern Wisconsin and parts of Iowa.  

This year, the cicada emergence overlaps with several major metropolitan areas, including Chicago and Nashville. Cicadas thrive primarily in forested environments, but Cooley says they’ll still be active in certain parts of more urbanized areas. 

“In parts of those areas where there are good patches of forest… you'll get good populations,” he says. “In other parts of the metro area where the forests are really severely fragmented or degraded, you're gonna find you don't see a lot of cicadas, and so you'll see a real difference.” 

In newer cities and suburbs, cicadas might be less common, since they will have had less time to adapt to a new urban environment, Cooley says. They’ll be more active in older cities, where they will have had several generations to adapt.  

Read More: Shooting Streams of Pee, Cicadas Will do Weird Things During the Emergence

For more detail on where to expect cicada emergences, Cooley recommends using the University of Connecticut’s interactive cicada mapping project to check your area. 

Is the Cicada Emergence Dangerous?  

While the cicadas will be very noticeable, it’s important to remember that they pose no threat to any humans or animals, according to Cooley.  

“It's going to be a very widespread emergence. It's going to be hard to avoid them in many areas during the day,” he says. “There's really not much you can do about that except sit back and realize it's all going to go back to normal in about a month.” 

The most noticeable impact of the cicada emergence will be their distinctive buzzing. Annual cicadas can often be heard during the summer months, and this year’s emergence will bring a similar — albeit much louder — hum. This buzzing is actually part of a complex mating ritual, Cooley says, with males and females using different sounds to attract mates and communicate with each other.   

Read More: The Emergence of Brood X Cicadas

Preparing for the Cicada-geddon

You might also notice trees covered in cicada exoskeletons during the first few weeks of the emergence. Once they surface, cicada nymphs shed their hard outer skeletons and spread their wings, leaving behind an exoskeleton that looks almost identical to a nymph. 

In order to reproduce, female cicadas lay their eggs in small twigs or branches, using body parts called ovipositors to slit open these branches and deposit their eggs inside. This often weakens the branches, causing them to turn brown and even break off in the wind. 

“By the end of the summer in places that have really heavy emergences, the ends of the trees are all going to look dead and strange, and that'll persist right through the fall. And next spring, you'll never know the difference,” Cooley says.  

This can sometimes be harmful to delicate ornamental plants or fruit trees. In order to protect your plants, Cooley recommends covering them in bird netting, or anything else that will “physically exclude” females from ovipositing in small branches. 

While cicadas may not be everyone’s thing, experts are encouraging everyone to observe this unique event — and to remember that it’s only temporary.  

“This is a very special thing. It's a natural phenomenon. Sit back, enjoy it, learn a few things, learn about insects,” Cooley says. “These are really very friendly insects. They can't harm you.” 

Read More: Why Do These 6 Animals Represent Death in Cultures Around the World?

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