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The Invasion of Brood XIII Thumbnail

The Invasion of Brood XIII

Cicada shedding its shell to emerge with wings

The Cicadas are back…I’m glad it is only every 17 years!

By Jon Aldrich

Back in 2007, the last time the cicadas emerged by the billions, we were taken by surprise at our house. We didn’t realize that we lived in a cicada hotbed, as we live in an old forest area that has been undisturbed, but it was a really neat experience and we knew exactly what to expect this year as Cicada Brood XIII (Northern Illinois Brood) made it’s once in every 17 year appearance. 

We kept a close eye on the yard for signs they were ready to emerge from their 17 years of “feasting” on tree roots underground. We heard reports that they were starting to emerge in other areas of the state and even started hearing their loud, droning noise off in the distance in the neighborhood as other areas not far from our home had already experienced their arrival. They need the soil temperature where they live to reach about 64 degrees to trigger their ascent to the surface. Apparently, our yard took a little longer to reach the optimal temperature.

The Emergence

Finally, the evening arrived for the first night of their emergence. They always emerge at dusk and continue for a few hours into night-time. I cannot describe the sound they make burrowing out from the ground and finding a plant or tree to anchor to and shed their exoskeletons so they can emerge with wings, but it almost sounds like something out of a horror movie. The picture at the beginning of this article shows a cicada shortly after emerging, making this transformation.

Cicada emergence holes

Our entire property has now been “aerated” as you can see in the picture above. There are millions of these holes that the bugs came out from their 17 years of living underground, feeding on tree roots and sap.

There are also millions of these discarded exoskeletons all over the yard:

Shedded exoskeletons from the cicadas

So, for the next week, every night at sunset, more and more cicadas emerged from the ground. Apparently, the males arrive first, and a few days later, the females make their appearance. After they emerge from the ground, they find a place to anchor and shed their skin and allow their wings to dry, which takes a half hour or so. After this, things are still pretty quiet but now there are thousands of cicadas all over the yard just hanging out. They still have not climbed up in the trees, and are not yet flying around. They are also still not making noise, but that will be short-lived. For now, there are just millions of cicadas crawling everywhere or just looking at you with their orange bug eyes.

 Cicadas hanging out before they figure out how to fly and make noise

Turn up the Noise!

After about a week or longer of them all emerging, and it still being quiet, they figure out how to fly and start making that ear piercing noise they are so famous for. They are the world’s worst fliers, but I guess it is amazing they can fly after being underground all those years. They fly into everything, especially your hair and stick to your clothes. If you are out in the yard, you are constantly brushing them out of your hair and shirt and pants. Of course, they are harmless and don’t bite or sting, but it can be a bit unnerving. They are just buzzing all over the place.

The noise is a constant sound all during the daylight hours and in our yard, you do need to raise your voice when talking to someone as it gets loud and it does not stop until dusk. The good thing is that the cicadas turn down the volume a little before sunset, thankfully. But every morning about 8 am or so, they get back at it.

What Does Ande-Dogg Think?

The last emergence back in 2007 was 2 dogs ago for us. Our dog at the time was a Dalmatian named “Snickers”. Snickers only had 3 legs as she got cancer in her front paw, and one of her front legs had to be amputated, but she never seemed to notice and it hardly affected her. She could do everything a normal dog could do, such as run around, jump on the bed, etc. Snickers loved snacking on cicadas and probably ate over a hundred of them at the last emergence. We had to limit her intake as she would have stayed out there for hours munching on them. Thus, we were curious as to how our current dog, Ande would react to them. Turns out, he was indifferent for the most part and only snacked on a couple of them. He is always more interested in the chipmunks and ground squirrels that torment him. 


Now after a couple weeks of the craziness, things are starting to slow down and there are more and more dead cicadas all over the place. They come up for a couple of weeks to mate and expire soon after laying their eggs in the tree branches. The females cut a slit into small branches and deposit their eggs. On mature trees, this causes small parts of these branches to die and fall to the ground. It does not affect mature trees too much, but can cause trouble for young trees. 

Now there are all kinds of small twigs with leaves on them strewn all over the lawn. When these branches fall, the eggs hatch, and the nymphs burrow back into the ground, where they will spend the next 17 years before the whole cycle starts over again.

The Aftermath

At this time, we are currently in the stage where the event is winding down. The noise is greatly reduced and there is a lot less flying around. More and more spent cicada bodies are strewn everywhere. You cannot walk without hearing bug bodies crunching underfoot. Back in 2007, we had so many dead cicada bodies on the deck and the driveway, that I had to get the snow shovel out and remove them from some spots. We haven’t reached that point yet this year, but I am sure there will be some areas where we may have to do that again.

That is not really the worst part though. The worst part is the smell of millions of rotting cicada bodies all over the place. It is not unbearable like the smell of a dead animal, but it does get your attention and is a little bit gross. Also, we will find cicada carcasses and exoskeletons for the next year or two, all over the place.

Overall, though, it is a wonder of nature and it is really great to be able to experience this rare, every 17 year event. There were some worries that climate change could affect them, but I have not really seen anything (at least this time) that says climate change is messing up the cicadas lifecycle.

We probably will not be living in our same house in 2041, the next time this wonderful, every 17- year party takes place, so the next owners will be in for a treat when that time rolls around. Maybe I should leave them an owners manual so they know what to expect!