Molting cicada
A 13-year cicada swarm is breaking out in the South and Midwest. Image from Wikimedia Commons.

An outbreak of insects has enveloped the south in an odd event that happens nearly every year. Several states, mostly in the American South, are in the midst of a 13-year cicada swarm, named for the type of insects that are running rampant. Numerous species of cicada take years before hatching and spending a few brief months above ground before dying.

Rare breed of insect takes more than a decade to hatch

Currently, the American Southeast and Midwest is in the middle of a very rare event. A 13-year cicada swarm is currently underway, and millions of insects are filling the air in several states. According to Discover magazine, insects from this 13-year swarm will be present in parts of Illinois, Missouri, Arkansas, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, North and South Carolina, Tennessee and Kentucky. Certain species of cicada lay dormant for years as nymphs, according to the Scientific American. After spending about 13 years underground, they take to the air full grown to mate, lay eggs and die.

A rare brood

There are two kinds of periodical cicadas, also called Magicicada according to Wikipedia. There are 13-year and 17-year varieties of these insects, and there are specific subgroups, called broods. This year is the mating season of Brood XIX, which has the largest geographic distribution of any periodic cicada in the United States. There are four species of 13-year cicadas and three 17-year cicada species. There are 16 recognized cicada broods, of which 13 are 17-year cicadas and the other three are 13-year cicadas. The XIX brood is also referred to as the “Great Southern Brood,” and the swarm should last into July, when the last of the adults die. Once every 221 years, though, a 13-year and 17-year brood will emerge at the same time. That last happened in 1998 when the Kansas Brood and Great Southern Brood came out at the same time.

Momentous though annoying

Though the hatching of a periodic cicada brood is certainly a rare occasion and a wonderful event to contemplate, it is not the easiest thing to put up with. Cicadas don’t sting or bite humans for the most part, and they are not venomous. However, the mating calls of cicadas are exceedingly loud when they begin in the daytime and they do not stop until dark. Plants, especially young trees, can be destroyed by the insects as they feed and lay eggs for the brief time that they are alive. The situation does resolve itself naturally, however, as the adults never live more than a few weeks.

Sources

Discover: http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/80beats/2011/05/05/after-13-year-underground-adolescence-billions-of-cicadas-will-soon-burst-forth/

Scientific American: http://www.scientificamerican.com/blog/post.cfm?id=buzzing-13-year-periodic-cicadas-em-2011-05-04

Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Magicicada

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