Andreas Jeninga/The Hoya Cicadas have begun to emerge from beneath the ground, shedding their exoskeletons before beginning to fly. The bugs emerge en masse every 17 years.
While many students have left Washington, the nation’s capital has prepared for an invasion of sorts.
Cicadas, big bulgy insects about 1.5 inches long, are coming by the millions to the Washington, D.C., area. According to experts, residents will soon see them everywhere, flying in huge swarms, sitting in trees and lying on roads and sidewalks.
Some types of cicadas come out annually between the months of June and October but this particular class – known as Brood X – emerges every 17 years and is an unusually large group of bugs. They’re known scientifically as Magicicada septendecim and will burrow out from underneath the ground where they have been living for over a decade, appearing everywhere from the Eastern seaboard to the Midwest.
While some people fear the odd-looking insects, the bugs are actually harmless. Although noisy, they do not bite, sting or transmit diseases – the only damage they cause is to some young trees when females lay eggs in them. Although the cicadas are not yet seen to the extent that many are expecting, cicadas have emerged in the suburbs and some parts of the District.
Mary Beth Sullivan (COL ’05) who lives off-campus likened the cicadas to “something kind of biblical.” She said her outside sidewalk was “covered in smushed cicadas.”
“This has been my only encounter with them,” Sullivan said. “But I don’t like it when their gross, dead bodies are strewn on the sidewalk.”
Although, experts say that Sullivan’s feelings are common, residents must still brace themselves for the storm of millions, or perhaps billions, of cicadas that is set to arrive in the coming weeks.
The College of Mount St. Joseph Web site says that the bugs taste like “cold canned asparagus.” They also have high vitamin content and are “Atkins friendly,” according to the Web site.
This is not enough to convince skeptical students like Valerie Ciccone (COL ’05) of their value though. She said the cicadas “just look too gross to like.”
Yet many experts, like Georgetown biology professor Edward Barrows, are waiting for the rare cicada storm with gleeful anticipation. Barrows witnessed the last cicada storm in 1987 but wasn’t able to perform the sort of research he wanted due to family commitments. This year is different though.
“The cicadas are exciting and I’m very happy I have a block of time to learn about them,” he said. “I hope that students pick up the excitement.”
Barrows has a long list of experiments he wants to undertake, to understand more about the bugs.
“I want to know when the emergence starts, when the males stop calling, the sex ratio of local populations, the species composition of local populations, how fast the larvae crawl, etc.,” he said. “We don’t know much about [cicada] biology in human residential areas.”
Although Barrows looks forward to chance to study cicadas, he worries about their future – commercial expansion, he explains, could disrupt future cicada cycles.
“I think about what it will be like 17 years from now,” he said. “I hope that I am around and spry enough to work with them in 2021 and that someone will not raze my neighbor’s house and build a great gluttonous Gucci box that will cover most of the lot as is occurring in other parts of my neighborhood.”