The Cicadas are Here

Cicada on hardware cloth with red eyes

There are annual cicadas. Then there are 13-year cicadas. And 17-year cicadas. Then there are days like today when 13 and 17 year cicadas emerge from the ground around the same time, creating a fairly odd event in our backyard.

Cicada holes in ground

My daughters are helpfully pointing out a few of the thousands of holes in the ground around our yard—sites where cicadas have been emerging for the past two weeks.

Almost every day there's a new batch that starts climbing up the garden, the trees, the house, the barbecue grill, the kids toy box, the toys the kids leave in the yard... pretty much everything.

And then for a day or two you see them shedding their old skin, emerging, walking around a bit drunkenly, then eventually flying up into the trees.

That is, except for the approximately ten thousand that fattened up our local chipmunk, squirrel, and bird families. The first few days all those critters were having the feast of their lives. But after two days seeing every backyard rodent gorging themselves nonstop, they seem to have had enough, as they're back to tinkering with our bird feeders.

Cicada shedding skin on tree

The fortunate Cicadas who have survived the local fauna—probably numbering in the hundreds of thousands at this point—discard their skins at such a rate now there are mounds of shells at the base of all our trees, our garden, the legs of our playset...

Cicada shell pile at tree root

In fact, it's hard now to go outside and not feel a giant "crunch" underfoot, whether you just stepped in a pile of shells and discarded insect parts, or a couple of giant cicadas just kind of drunkenly walking around.

Cicada noise - 76 dBa

Their mating ritual involves the males crunching part of their body to the tune of 100 dB or so, which apparently the females find attractive.

Put tens of thousands of these things in a tree, and you get 76 dBa of constant sound—and it's been increasing this week.

At the beginning of the week, it came and went, peaking around 65 dBa in my backyard. Today it's up to 76 dBa (as measured unscientifically by my watch), and it will likely get a bit louder.

I'm fairly certain we have both broods (13/17 year) going now, because there are two distinct types of noise as I drive through my neighborhood, kind of weaving in and out as both are always audible this weekend.

If you want to learn more about Cicadas, there's an eccentric site someone set up just for you: Cicada Mania.

Cicada on tree


Cicada broods 13 & 17 started emerging last month in Columbia SC.