Appalachian Thursday – 17-Year Plague

As if 2020 hasn’t been hard enough already.

The east coast–specifically NC, WV, and VA (how did TN opt out?)–are due for the emergence of the 17-year cicada. Folks often call them locusts, but they’re really Magicicada periodical cicadas. Wow–what a name!

The 13-year and 17-year types fall into this category and they’re identified by brood numbers. It seems Brood IX was last seen in 2003–17 years ago. Which means they should soon be crawling out from their 17-year slumber refreshed and ready to make some NOISE.

Which is the primary issue with cicadas in my opinion. Sure they’re creepy looking and those husks they leave attached to every surface are weird, but it’s the constant whirring that wears me down. One year we had two major broods emerge at the same time and hiking became an act of aural endurance.

Fortunately, they party hard and then die down in four to six weeks. They only come out to mate, lay their eggs, and die. The eggs hatch later on and the nymphs burrow into the ground where they’ll nap for another 17 years. And you thought your life-cycle was rough!

Of course, there are superstitions and myths surrounding these periodic insects including:

  • They’re a plague sent to punish people. Well, the Bible set us up for that one. But the Biblical plague was locusts (a kind of grasshopper) and not cicadas. Locusts destroy crops, cicadas mostly just make a lot of annoying noise.
  • They poison fruit with their sting. Cicadas can’t sting (hallelujah!). They do cut slits in tree trunks and branches to lay their eggs, which may be where this notion came from.
  • They predict war. Cicadas often have distinct black edges on their front wings in the shape of a W. This was seen as an omen of war.

I remember one cicada summer when we had a cat that ate the insects non-stop. Somehow this made him horribly thin, but he did love to crunch them like popcorn. And a few years ago another brood came out in WV delighting my niece who had a “bug cage” that she filled with them.

Here’s hoping Brood IX keeps the party in check this year . . . In case you’re wondering about your part of the country, here’s a handy-dandy chart letting you know when broods are expected in various locations.

Published by Sarah Loudin Thomas

Author, wife, child of God.

8 thoughts on “Appalachian Thursday – 17-Year Plague

      1. Crickets quietly chirping is pleasant but the cicada, I hear (we don’t have them), is likened to a car alarm going off—irritating and just beyond the range of ignoring.

      1. I HAAAAAAAAAAAAATE bugs. I’d end up in a psych ward. For real. I cannot cope with a few days of June bugs, these would send me spinning.

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