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Some of us are looking for them. Some of us are hiding from them. And many of us are just wondering, where are the cicadas?
You’ve probably heard that billions of Brood X cicadas that’ve been burrowed for the last 17 years are emerging this spring throughout the eastern U.S.
Unlike the invasive spotted lanternflies, cicadas aren’t really harmful to plants. They do feed on leaves, and mamas laying eggs into twigs can cause what experts say is tantamount to natural pruning.
The flying insects were due out in the region by about this time, and there were reportedly Brood X sightings in some places in Montgomery County in early May.
But a cold snap earlier this month may have delayed or thwarted their grand entrance, experts say. There’s also no certainty that the swarms will be spotted inside of city limits, since urban areas don’t make the best burrowing grounds.
If you are one of those seeking a sighting, however, a handful of West Philly neighborhoods boast some of the best spots, according to historical entomology.
Here’s a quick look at what the cicadas are doing here, and where you might find them.
What are Brood X cicadas?
Brood X are a type of periodical cicadas that emerge from the ground every 17 years across more than a dozen states. They were last spotted in those regions in 2004.
FYI, it’s pronounced “Brood 10.” The X is a Roman numeral; the Magicicada septendecim was the tenth discovered out of 15 known periodicals.
These are different from the annual cicadas, which pop out in the city each year. Philly region annuals have green or brown bodies, and make a different kind of sound.
Brood X cicadas are black and orange with red legs and eyes (*shudders*), and are known for their distinct loud hiss. It’s the sound the males make to attract a mate and breed during their short little lives.
How long do they last?
Each insect lives just 3 to 4 weeks, so Brood X should die off sometime around the middle or end of June. Philly’s annual cicadas don’t emerge until after then, in July.
While cicadas are above ground, their goal is to mate. It’s the males that make most of the noise, calling females, which snap their wings in reply. Eggs get laid inside twigs and tree branches, and then the adults die and fall to the ground.
When the eggs hatch after a couple of months, the tiny nymphs fall — and burrow, burrow, burrow. They find a tree root, and begin feeding on the sap.
For Brood X, that period of the life cycle lasts 17 years, until it’s time to tunnel up, burst into open air, shed their skin and become adults in the (hopefully) glorious summer of 2038.
What’s this about psychedelic fungus?
Some of the adult cicadas won’t be lucky enough to contribute to the slowly repeating cycle. A fungus called Massospora can infect them, causing a change in behavior — and ultimately, early death.
The fungus contains some of the same amphetamines found in psychedelic mushrooms, and it makes cicadas go nuts in their mating ritual, with males acting like hermaphrodites. It also eats out their abdomens, and eventually their butts fall off.
Quick note: don’t eat the infected bugs looking for a high. “There’s always a risk in eating cicadas pump-filled with amphetamines,” experts told the Guardian. Solid advice.
Are they even coming to Philly?
A map by researchers at the University of Connecticut suggests the periodical brood might not actually even show up in Philly at all. There’s a high concentration of some of the expected billions of periodical cicadas to the south in areas of Maryland, to the north in the Lehigh Valley, and a bit to the east in parts of New Jersey, including Princeton.
The region immediately surrounding the city appears to be one researchers think might stay free of the swarms. Still, historical records suggest they’ve been here in the past.
Jon Gelhaus of the Academy of Natural Sciences discovered a Brood X specimen in the academy’s collection that was collected in Philadelphia in June 1902, exactly seven sets of 17 years ago.
And John Bartram, founder of Bartram’s Garden, journaled about the insects’ presence in Philadelphia in 1749, also a Brood X year. Back then, they were present along the western banks of the Schuylkill.
So where should I look for Brood X?
According to Gelhaus at the Academy, there’s still a good chance you’ll find Brood X critters if you scour green space near Bartram’s Garden and in West Philly’s Powelton Village.
Folks can also check out the Woodlands near University City, and Laurel Hill Cemetery in Fairmount Park.
Better sightings outside the city
You’ll probably have better luck spotting the crawling noise-makers in the suburbs, where residents are already sharing pictures and videos of trees covered in cicadas. Places like Downingtown, Quakertown and Princeton are great spots to check out, per PennLive.
If you’re super into it and looking to gamify the search, there’s also a smartphone app called Cicada Safari that crowdsources and maps sightings.
And if you want to make a trip out of it, head down to I-95 to the Greater D.C. area. Can’t miss ’em.