Blog Post By Jona Elwell

Surprise! Are Cicadas Back?

Every 17 years, the D.C. area is overrun by cicadas. But this spring, thousands of them are showing up four years ahead of schedule.

This seemingly unusual event can be explained by a number of factors, ranging from climate change to the prevalence of the internet. The infamous periodical cicadas are the ones that come out in droves (literally) every 17 years, blanketing the ground and sky and filling the air with their mating song. The bugs that have been spotted from Baltimore to Woodbridge, VA? Those are annual cicadas, which appear every summer around the DMV whereas the periodical cicadas, a part of Brood X that last emerged in 2004, are set to reappear in 2021.

Although this might seem shocking to us, the emergence wasn’t surprising in bug circles. Gene Kritsky, am entomology professor,  studied cicadas in the 1990s and found they were growing faster and larger each year. In 2000 Kristky predicted they would emerge four years early. And they did- in big numbers.

What goes around comes around, and Kritsky is not surprised that the same thing is happening 17 years later. The suspect for causing an early arrival? He thinks it is higher ground temperature due to climate change.

Another reason there are more cicada sightings in this off year may be that people are looking for them more. We know the power of citizen scientists, and people rely on whatever technology is available to report sightings. As one might expect, with a tiny computer in your pocket, it is easy and fast to report a sighting from a smartphone.

If you see something, say something and report your cicada findings here. Interested in getting involved as citizen scientist? Feel free to reach out at 202-833-4010. The one good thing an emergence of cicadas signifies? The beginning of summer.

Photo courtesy of Jacob Fenston / WAMU.

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