South gets a major buzz on every 13 years
The 13-year periodical cicada has big red bug-eyes to go with its orange legs and wing parts.
May 24th, 2011
12:01 PM ET

South gets a major buzz on every 13 years

The brood is back, and it's gonna be noisy.

Trees, posts, walls and other vertical surfaces throughout the American South are being covered this spring with billions of periodical cicadas: red-eyed insects that emerge, like Chicago Cubs fans' pennant hopes, for a few weeks just once every 13 years.

The bugs are perfectly harmless to humans, unless you count annoyance caused by the remarkable amount of noise the love-starved little critters make. The male cicada's mating call has been compared to a circular saw, only more shrill - and that's just the way the lady cicadas like it.

The females lay eggs in slits in tree branches and then go off to die naturally or get eaten by birds or your dog or your toddler.  The eggs hatch a short time later, and the larvae fall to the ground and burrow into the soil. There they suckle on tree roots for 13 years before their (undoubtedly noisy) internal alarm clocks tell them it's time to emerge into the sunlight, climb trees, leave a dried shell behind and start the whole cycle over again.

Cicada species in states farther north follow a 17-year pattern. And then there's the elite crew that come out every year, just because they can. (If you live in a border state like Tennessee, you get some of all of them. Bonus!)

There are different broods of 13-year cicadas that emerge in different places in different years.

If you live in Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Missouri, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee or Virginia, this is your year. (A few may show up elsewhere as well.) The bunch currently emerging, known as Brood XIX, are the offspring of the ones that deafened you in 1998. The grandkids being created now are due to return as adults in May 2024.

Spring afternoons should be relatively quiet till then.

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Filed under: Alabama • Animals • Arkansas • Georgia • Illinois • Indiana • Insects • Louisiana • Maryland • Mississippi • Missouri • Music • Nature • North Carolina • Oklahoma • Science • South Carolina • Tennessee • U.S. • Virginia
soundoff (14 Responses)
  1. Cesar

    1998 was a very good year. These cicadas should be on the sweet side, with a peanut buttery after-taste.

    May 24, 2011 at 12:36 pm | Report abuse |
  2. THThite

    So THIS explains the insane amount around my house all month. Cannot stand these little things, they've been driving me crazy!

    May 24, 2011 at 12:37 pm | Report abuse |
  3. RUFFNUTT

    i get a buzz almost everynight... colt45 or mad dog 20/20

    May 24, 2011 at 12:56 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Jazzzzzzzzzz

    Ooo, look it's Ellis in his true state. He he

    May 24, 2011 at 1:02 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Rox731

    IJust told my neighbor boy that these cicadas buried themselves before they were born. LOL

    May 24, 2011 at 1:08 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Ellis

    Safe to say bears and these insects hybernate. I do too, in the weekends ha he

    May 24, 2011 at 1:43 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Philip

    Poaching for hybrid whitetail deer just south of San Antonio back in the mid-80s, these bugs were everywhere. Most of them were dead though, and stunk like crazy. Millions of them rotting on the ground. Disgusting. So is poaching though. (shrug)

    May 24, 2011 at 3:05 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Taco Joe

    When ground up they really do make a good filler for burritos.

    May 24, 2011 at 5:24 pm | Report abuse |
  9. senor Philipe'

    Whattaya 'ground up' an hybrid whitetail deer with Joe?

    May 24, 2011 at 6:08 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Pudding

    My boyfriend and I were on our way back home to Whitakers, NC from a ride to Hampton, VA on Sunday, May 15. We had the windows up on the car and we kept hearing cicadas (we call them July Flies in the south) while we were driving through the country. We were like, wow those things are LOUD this year! Now we know why!

    May 24, 2011 at 11:10 pm | Report abuse |
  11. FIRST

    i's be frum alabama. ROLL TIDE!!!!! i was wanderin is they be blind or sumphin cause they be hittin my ford alot when isa ride down tha rode

    May 26, 2011 at 1:51 pm | Report abuse |
  12. heebeegeebee

    Down here in da swamp, dey be callin' dem "Saw Bugs." We be usin' dem to make dem tasty swampcicles. Toorists love dem swampcicles.

    May 30, 2011 at 12:22 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Stucarius

    People really cannot begin to understand how loud theses buggers are. There area a lot of large oaks outside our house and those of our neighbors. The Katie-Dids (name I grew up on) are so loud you have to scream to be heard over them sometimes.

    There are also slight differences in the emergencies from county to county. as the populations are isolated and do not really interbred. Mostly the different groups will have a slightly different sound but some are brighter than others, have blood red eyes or bright orange red eyes etc....

    The best way to describe the sound of our lovlies is to compare it exactly to the throbbing hum of a 1950's scifi flying saucers. You expect to see the invaders ships appear over the mountain anytime.

    I love them though. Their emergence periods are like summer time markers in your life. It is the wonder and mystery of the American SOuth at its best.

    Funny how no one has mentioned the billions of holes in the ground from their coming out of hibernation. Well the fish and birds are fat and happy but you can give up on catching anything for a while.

    May 31, 2011 at 12:54 pm | Report abuse |
  14. sb528

    I live in Missouri and they're unevenly distributed. In some parts of the county they don't have them at all and where I live there are so many its like a sci fi movie every time you go out. I had one hitch a ride on my neck yesterday and I didn't even know until I went into a store and it started squawking. I know they're harmless, but they're so annoying! The hallways of my apartment building are littered with their corpses. Thank God I won't be seeing them again till 2024.

    June 5, 2011 at 3:11 pm | Report abuse |