Cicada Preparedness

Photo: Joel Mills

This May, billions of inch-and-a-half-long, red-eyed insects will wake from a seventeen-year subterranean slumber. The swarm known as“Brood II” will overtake the mid-Atlantic, emitting mating songs in 100-decibel surround sound. For humans, it’s a plague of biblical proportions, but for cicadas, it’s one giant singles bar. Here, what to expect with the lovefest.

Number of Cicadas Expected to Emerge:
1 Billion (Per Square Mile)

What They Taste Like:
“Corn.” —Louis Sorkin, American Museum of Natural History Entomologist*

“Cold, canned asparagus.” —Gene Kritsky, author of Periodical Cicadas: The Plague and the Puzzle

Where They Live:
Seventeen-year cicadas are identified by twelve geographically distinct broods.

1. Brood IV
(1981, 1998, 2015)
Densest outbreak 1,000 per square meter (Kansas, 1981)

2. Brood X
(1987, 2004, 2021)
Largest geographic range

3. Brood II
(1979, 1996, 2013)
Most New York–centric

From Cradle to Swarm:
1. When soil temperatures reach 64 degrees, the nymphs dig exits and crawl into trees to molt.

2. After their exoskeletons harden, they find mates using distinctive calls.

3. Fertilized females lay around 600 eggs before dying.

4. The offspring hatch in six to ten weeks, burrow into the ground, and await the next cicadapocalypse.

What to Know:

Avoid midday lawn mowing.
Cicadas can confuse the sounds of lawn mowers and other power tools for mating calls.

Nap with earplugs.
Cicadas are most active during the day, when their chirps can reach the decibel levels of a jackhammer.

Make cicada pesto.
Cicada chef Jenna Jadin recommends trying the newly hatched cicadas, called tenerals, which are the most delicate and flavorful.

Cicada Taxonomy
Cicada broods are composed of three different species. A breakdown by cicada expert Gene Kritsky.

Name: Magicicada Septendecim
Identification: Largest and noisiest; distinguished by thick orange stripes on its abdomen.
Sound like … “It’s this very hollow flutelike sound,” Kritsky says. “You hear it high above everything else.”

Name: Magicicada Septen­decula
Identification: Rarest; small-bodied with thinner orange lines underneath.
Sounds like … “It tends to sound like a rotary sprinkler head.”

Name: Magicicada Cassini
Identification: Small-bodied and all-black; known to chirp in sync.
Sounds like … “Almost like a shivering sound, like putting wet bacon in a hot frying pan.”

*This article has been corrected to show that Louis Sorkin compared the taste of cicadas to corn, not soft-shell crab.

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Cicada Preparedness