Another BUG OF THE MONTH MAY 2009: 17 Year Locusts, Scientists surprised By Unexpected Emergence Of Periodical Cicadas — Four Years Early

Large bee like insect with red round eyes.
Fri, May 8, 2009 at 10:21 AM
Hello. This morning while putting on my shorts, which contained this lovely thing, it stung me. I’m still not feeling well and have been unable to find out what it is.
We’ve live in this area for 4 years now, Central Virginia, and have never seen this before. Although now we are seeing them everywhere.
Kimberly with a very painful thigh.
South Central Virginia

Periodical Cicadas emerge early
Periodical Cicadas emerge early

Hi Kimberly,
We were so shocked by your report and photo of Periodical Cicadas or 17 Year Locusts, that we immediately did some research to find out what brood this was. We located a very interesting piece online on Science Daily that states: “The cause of these early emergences is unknown, but [Gene] Kritsky, in a paper to be published in the Proceedings of the Indiana Academy of Science, has found evidence suggesting that mild winters can affect the trees that young cicadas feed upon which in turn interferes with the cicadas’ timekeeping resulting in their emerging early. ‘This phenomenon might be another biological response to increasing temperatures,’ Kritsky said. ” Can this be yet another piece of evidence that global warming is affecting the environment in very telling ways? Even more puzzling is that you were bitten. Cicadas do have sucking mouthparts and perhaps you were mistaken for a succulent sapling. Cicadamania indicates this is Brood II on an accelerated emergence. Generally, every 14 or 17 years, there is a mass emergence of millions of Magicicada individuals. They breed, provide food for birds and other wildlife, lay eggs and die. The young hatch, bury themselves underground, live there for 13 or 17 years, and then emerge as a new swarm. The 17 Year Locust, Magicicada septendecim, is one of the oldest living insects.

We had one in the house last week and killed it not knowing what it was. They are huge!!!
I’m guessing the fact that I put my shorts on with him in them probably scared the bejesus out of him and that’s why he bit me? I know it freaked me out. I don’t think I’ve ever gotten out of my shorts so fast.
Right now, it just mostly itches like a dickens.
We live in Chase City, Virginia. (acutally a little outside of it) These past couple of months we have done tons of excavating. First for a riding ring, then we had to lay a new septic drain field and last we had to lay a new well line. (sucky year for our yard).
Could all of that digging brought them out? We’ve also had a very large amount of rain. To the point of it being ridiculous.
I don’t know what type of trees they typically live on. We have lots of Oaks. A few momosas, pines, magnolia’s, a black walnut and a peach tree. There’s also a willow and a persimmon. (the spelling may be off on that one) We also had tons of holly tree’s but we’ve cut most of them down over the past year due to overgrowth before we bought the house.
So far, our’s in the only house around that has them. And, now that we know what they are, we won’t be so afraid of long as they stay out of my clothes.
Thanks for your help.

Hi Kim,
Thanks for the follow-up information, especially since we have made this unusual occurrence a secondary Bug of the Month for May. We doubt that your excavation had anything to do with this unseasonal appearance. With the Magicicada species, there are various numbered broods that have differing and overlapping ranges. Some like Brood X, the largest of the broods which emerged in 2004, are very wide ranging. According to BugGuide: “There are four species with 13-year and three species with 17-year life cycles. The 13-year species are more southern, the 17-year species more northern.” National Geographic News indicates: “There are at least 12 broods of 17-year cicadas plus another three broods that emerge every 13 years. ‘A brood is a class year, like the graduates of 2004 who will be graduating this May,’ said Gene Kritsky, a biologist and cicada expert at the College of Mount St. Joseph in Cincinnati, Ohio. A brood emerges almost every year somewhere, sometimes overlapping with others. But none of the emergences matches the pure size of Brood X, which includes three cicada species: Magicicada septendecim ,Magicicada cassini , and Magicicada septendecula .” You may have an isolated pocket of Brood II since none of your neighbors have seen any. It might be that this atypical emergence is just beginning, and your neighbors homes will soon also be graced with Cicadas. Though there is a mass emergence, all individuals do not burrow to the surface on the same day. We expect that this atypical emergence is just beginning, and we will be getting additional reports from other areas in the coming days. Once again, thanks so much for allowing What’sThat Bug? to be among the first websites to report this occurrence this year. National Geographic News also has this to say about the life cycle of the Periodical Cicada: “After the cicadas have counted 17 years—’we really don’t know how they count the years,’ Kritsky said—they are ready to emerge, which usually happens in late spring when the soil reaches a temperature of about 64 Fahrenheit (18 Celsius)” and “Some scientists believe the mass emergence of the cicadas is part of a survival strategy. With so many of them, they collectively satiate their predators within a few days. Then the billions left uneaten are free to mate.” In 2000, several hundred thousand members of Brood X emerged in Cincinnati. According to National Geographic News’ 2004 coverage: “The outbreak was big enough for the cicadas to satiate their predators, sing, mate, and lay eggs. ‘If [the year 2000 Cincinnati nymphs] come out in 2017, we will have seen the evolution of a whole new brood,’ Kritsky said. ‘That’s cool.'” So Kim, your yard may be ground zero for the appearance of a new brood.

Update: Can Cicadas Bite?
10 May 2009
We have been trying to find out this information, and there is a very amusing posting on Cicada Mania that indicates they may bite. It states: “Technically cicadas don’t bite or sting; they do however pierce and suck. They might try to pierce and suck you, but don’t worry, they aren’t Vampires nor are they malicious or angry — they’re just ignorant and think you’re a tree. ” We would be more inclined to believe that Kim was scratched by the clawlike front legs.

Bite Remedy Sat, May 9, 2009 at 11:38 AM
Aloha Daniel –
About the cicada bite – to help with itching.
This is usually a great toxin extractor – a poultice of water and baking soda.
Used it as a child on bee/wasp stings. Use it over here in HI for centipede bites.
Non toxic, everyone has it around their kitchen. Cool water temp soothes the bite zone.

Bite Update: cicada bite
Sun, May 10, 2009 at 9:49 AM
A few years ago, while working in a state park nature center in Indiana, a young (6 years old) entomologist brought his latest aquisition, a cicada, to show me. I picked it up and let it crawl on my thumb. When I was ready to give it back, the thing wouldn’t let go, and decided to press that sucking mouth part into my thumb. It was pretty painful. They can DEFINATELY bite (or perhaps STAB is a more appropriate term).
When talking to the public about insects, which I do often, I try to point out the difference between “does it bite?” and “can it bite?” Many insects can bite, but are very unlikely to do so. I suspect that a person could pick up 100 cicadas before they got bit by one.
I was once bitten by a praying mantis while feeding it a cricket. Part of the cricket dropped on the back of my hand and the praying mantis went down to eat it and chewed on my hand instead… and continued to chew while I yelped in a surprising amount of pain. I had to pry it off my hand with a piece of cardboard. It itched like crazy for days. I still have a tiny scar. This is an exceptional case, but makes me think twice about what we tell people, especially bug lovers, about what can and cannot bite.
Rum Village Nature Center

Thanks Vince, for your first hand account. We are just guessing, but we suppose your thumb is considerably tougher than Kim’s thigh, and if the thumb skin could be penetrated, the thigh might be like butter.

6 thoughts on “Another BUG OF THE MONTH MAY 2009: 17 Year Locusts, Scientists surprised By Unexpected Emergence Of Periodical Cicadas — Four Years Early”

  1. I found your wonderful site because my four-year-old son just found a cicada with red eyes on our kitchen steps, which we identified as the 17-year Linnaeus’s cicada in our Songs of Insects book, and I’m guessing we’re in the Brood II area, judging from the map in Songs of Insects. We are in central Virginia (Fluvanna County)–seems like this guy (he seems on the small side compared to the other cicadas we’ve seen here) is 4 years early?

  2. I don’t know if the cicadas actually have messed up time keeping. They might just be prepping for the switching of the poles in 2012. How long have we watched them anyway? Do we know that they always go about 17 years?

    Btw, while the earth is warming, it is not mainly from human activity. A lot or most of it is methane levels rising in the atmosphere. Methane is 25 times more powerful than CO2.

  3. I can confirm that the periodical cicada will spear you. This happened to me when I had five or six of them on my hand a few years back (they last emerged here in Maryland in, I think, 2006). It was just about painful enough to be noticed. It was definitely the proboscis, and not a claw, in my case.

  4. Here in Georgia they appear every year? The only way I can imagine them being in the ground for 13 to 17 years. Last year was a big year we sat on our porch and watched some mating, some were attaching to shrubs and trees. We even saw the white bodies with red eyes. So when I read it will be 13 to 17 years before we see them again I “laugh out loud” they come out EVERY year at least in Georga. I am not saying they were only in the ground a year. I am saying the ones we see this year in Georgia might have went under ground 13 years ago and the ones we will see next years could have lived there 13 years ago and so forth. But THEY APPEAR HERE EVERY YEAR. Here is Burke, Richmond, Columbia and Glascock County, I have live in these county and have heard their noise every year. Some times the noise in unbearable.

    • You might have overlapping broods in your area. Periodical Cicadas do spend either 17 or 13 years undergound. Within broods, there are also some individuals with differing biological clocks.


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