68 In Memory of Brood X

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This blog about cicadas may seem like it’s reporting old news. After all, aren’t those cicadas gone for the next 17 years? Well, yes… but I felt that the Brood X cicadas that were so much a part of Blawenburg’s noise-scape in May and June should receive a fond farewell. And, by the way, a new generation is just underfoot!

The residents of Blawenburg and much of the northeastern United States had their 17-year visit from a group of cicadas known as Brood X (not Generation X, rather Group #10). After spending the previous 17 years underground, they came to the surface in May when the ground temperature reached 64 degrees. Now that they have spawned a new generation of cicadas and ended their life cycle, I thought it would be good to chronicle their visit and try to understand what was going on for the active six weeks that they were with us.

This adult cicada is one of billions of Brood X cicadas

that paid a short, six-week visit in the spring of 2021.

There are many cicada breeds that appear for varying time lengths—annually and every 13 years, for example. This brood has a life cycle of 17 years, one of the longest life cycles of any insect.

When we see or hear the cicadas, they are at the end of their life cycle. They’ve been underground as nymphs for 17 years, burrowing tunnels and eating the sap of tree roots. Scientists think that the change of seasons helps the cicadas understand the passage of time.

When cicadas come up from their tunnels, which are about eight inches below the surface, they have a hard case similar to the shell of a shrimp or lobster. They then molt and shed this protective shell. When they dry off and can flutter their wings, they fly up into trees and pursue their important mission—producing a new generation of cicadas.

Brood X cicadas are best known for the loud noise made by the males as they try to attract a mate. They produce a shrill sound by vibrating their drum-like abdomens, and if the females like what they hear, they respond by making a clicking sound. Cicadas mate with many partners during their wild month above ground.

The female plants the fertilized eggs in the small cuts known as oviposition slits at the end of tree branches. They don’t seem to care what type of trees they choose.