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Coming This Spring…

In the spring of 2024, two broods of cicadas will emerge from under the ground and make their presence known!

An adult cicada with a black body, large wings, and red eyes sits on a leaf.
© Ed Reschke-Stone/Getty Images
Cicadas like this one from the Northern Illinois brood make a lot of noise, but they’re harmless.

It’s going to be a loud spring in parts of the United States. In a very rare occurrence, two broods of cicadas will emerge almost simultaneously, after years underground.

Periodical cicadas live for years, but they spend most of their lives underground in the nymph (immature) life stage. Every 13 or 17 years (depending on the species), the insects will emerge as adults, shedding their exoskeletons and taking to the skies to mate. Scientists call each group that emerges a brood.

In late April and early May 2024, the Great Southern Brood, also known as Brood XIX, will emerge in several states, from Iowa down to Louisiana and from Oklahoma east to Virginia. It’s been 13 years since this brood was seen. Beginning in mid-May—after 17 years—the Northern Illinois Brood (or Brood XIII) will appear in Illinois as well as parts of Wisconsin, Indiana, and Michigan. Both broods will appear in southern Illinois. It’s extremely rare for the emergence of these two broods to overlap. The last time they appeared simultaneously was in 1803, when Thomas Jefferson was in the White House!

“Nobody alive today will see it happen again,” entomologist Floyd W. Shockley of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History told the New York Times.

The eastern United States with locations of cicada broods indicated by color.

Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.

This map shows the locations of cicada broods in the United States. The two broods shown in red boxes on the key will emerge in the spring of 2024.

Scientists predict there will be billions of cicadas in the affected states—and residents will know it. That’s because, when cicadas emerge, the males “sing” to the females to get them to mate, collectively producing a noise that’s too loud to ignore. After mating, the females lay their eggs in trees, and the adults die after only four to six weeks above ground. The eggs fall and end up underground for another 13 or 17 years.

The periodical cicadas will be gone by sometime in June, but annual cicadas, which appear every summer, will be out in force to take their place.

Scientists say there’s no need to fear the insects, which don’t sting or bite. In fact, cicadas are a food source for birds and small mammals—and a fascinating sight for humans. Biologist Gene Kritsky encourages parents to take their kids right to the broods.

“If you’re lucky enough to live in an area where these things are going on, get your kids out there,” Kritsky told National Public Radio (NPR). “Watch this.”

© Gerry Bishop/Shutterstock.com, © TacioPhilip—iStock.com/Getty Images, © JohnCarnemolla—iStock/Getty Images

Fun Fact!

The chirp of Australia’s greengrocer cicada can reach 120 decibels. The chart below should give you an idea of just how loud that is.

Comparison of the decibel levels of the greengrocer cicada, a jet engine, and human conversation.

© Patrizio Martorana, Ken Griffiths, Kadettmann/Dreamstime.com; Infographic Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.

An Early American Scientist

Science Source/Photo Researchers History/Getty Images, Frank Schulenburg (CC BY-SA 4.0); Composite image Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.

A 1795 edition of Benjamin Banneker’s almanac alongside a statue of Banneker, which is located in the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C.

Today, we know when to expect cicadas to emerge from underground. People may be annoyed by the sound, but no one is alarmed. That wasn’t always true, however. The first person to track the life cycle of cicadas may have been an 18th-century scientist named Benjamin Banneker.

Banneker was about 17 years old in 1749, when he witnessed the large insects on his family’s land in Maryland. Like many people of the time, he mistook the cicadas for harmful locusts and was relieved when they came to the end of their life cycle. Banneker observed cicadas again in 1766 and 1783. He noted that he saw the insects every 17 years and predicted a reappearance in 1800. He was right.

“Their periodical return is Seventeen years, but they, like the Comets, make but a short stay with us,” Banneker wrote.

In addition to making important observations about nature, Banneker developed many other talents. Born in 1731 to a free Black woman and a formerly enslaved man, Banneker was well educated—at a time when most Black Americans were enslaved and didn’t have the opportunity to attend school—and eventually became an astronomer, a mathematician, and an inventor. Most notably, he published astronomical almanacs with observations of the stars and planets and accurately predicted a 1789 solar eclipse.

Banneker also spoke out against slavery—to none other than Thomas Jefferson. In a 1791 letter to Jefferson, who was the U.S. secretary of state at the time, Banneker called out the fact that while Jefferson had called liberty a right in the Declaration of Independence, he also enslaved people.

Today, Banneker’s land in Maryland is open to the public as the Benjamin Banneker Historical Park and Museum.

Benjamin Banneker

A portrait of Benjamin Banneker
North Wind Picture Archives/Alamy

You can read more about the life and accomplishments of Benjamin Banneker at Britannica.

WORD OF THE DAY

cacophony

PART OF SPEECH:

noun

Definition:

: unpleasant loud sounds

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