How to Track the 17-Year Cicadas Emerging This Year

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a periodical cicada

Photo: Chris Alcock (Shutterstock)

If you live in Indiana, western Ohio, eastern Pennsylvania, or roughly anywhere around the D.C. area, get ready for a rare and bizarre phenomenon this spring: the emergence of Brood X cicadas, which have been biding their time underground for the past 17 years.

Periodical cicadas (Magicicada species) live underground as larvae for 13 or 17 years, depending on the species. When it’s time for them to produce the next generation, they emerge, molt, mate, and die within a few furious weeks. When it’s their year, the trees in an area are covered in giant bugs. This whole phenomenon is either gross or fascinating, depending on who you ask. (Okay, maybe it’s a little of both.) This year’s emergence has not yet begun, but it’s expected to start in the next month or so as the ground warms up.

If you feel like you last heard about 17-year cicadas less than 17 years ago, that’s because each brood has its own territory. You can see a map of them here. In western Pennsylvania, where I live, I saw Brood VIII emerge in 2002 and then 2019. I won’t see this year’s emergence, since the grubs that are turning 17 aren’t the ones that live around here.

To track and document the cicadas in your area, download the Cicada Safari app (free on Android and iOS) from Mount St. Joseph University. Right now, you can check a map for sightings, and as soon as your local cicadas begin to emerge, you can snap pictures of them for cicada scientists to study.

Even if you’re not in Brood X territory, sometimes cicadas get the time wrong and emerge a few years early or late. In the meantime, check the brood maps here, and see whether you can expect some rare visitors in another year.

This post was originally published in May of 2019 for the Brood VIII emergence, and was updated on March 19, 2021 with updated links and additional information about the Brood X cicadas.

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