Javascript is not enabled.

Javascript must be enabled to use this site. Please enable Javascript in your browser and try again.

Skip to content
Content starts here
CLOSE ×
Search
Leaving AARP.org Website

You are now leaving AARP.org and going to a website that is not operated by AARP. A different privacy policy and terms of service will apply.

The Latest Buzz on the 2024 Cicada Boom

Billions of bugs expected to sing and hook up in certain parts of the U.S.


spinner image multiple cicadas on tree leaves
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

The total solar eclipse on April 8 isn’t the only extremely rare natural event in store for 2024.

From late April through June, at least 16 states across the Southeast and Midwest will experience something that hasn’t happened since 1803 — the simultaneous, widespread emergence of two periodical broods of cicadas.

spinner image Image Alt Attribute

AARP Membership— $12 for your first year when you sign up for Automatic Renewal

Get instant access to members-only products and hundreds of discounts, a free second membership, and a subscription to AARP the Magazine. Find out how much you could save in a year with a membership. Learn more.

Join Now

For those interested in the math, that’s billions (or possibly trillions) of bugs.

The merging involves the Great Southern Brood (otherwise known as Brood XIX), which appears every 13 years and will affect most of the southeastern United States, and the Northern Illinois Brood (Brood XIII), which emerges every 17 years. States likely to be affected include Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Wisconsin and Virginia.

While some are calling the event “cicadapocalypse,” people should focus on it as an “amazing, beautiful, entomological experience,” says Jonathan Larson, an extension entomologist and assistant professor at the University of Kentucky.

spinner image Periodical Cicada, Adult, Magicicada spp. Requires 17 years to complete development. Nymph splits its skin, and transforms into an adult. Feeds on sap of tree roots. Northern Illinois Brood. This brood is the largest emergence of cicadas anywhere
Ed Reschke/Getty Images

How Do You Solve a Problem Like Cicadas?

You can't. But there are a couple of things to keep in mind:

They can be a danger to young trees

Female egg-laying can cause some damage, says Cooley, which “isn't really an issue for native hardwood trees (these cicadas have been part of our forests for millions of years), but the damage can affect orchards and tree nurseries.” He suggests wrapping delicate trees in avian netting to encourage the females to go elsewhere. “We do not suggest using pesticides,” Cooley adds, “because the amounts needed would be hazardous, and the ecological consequences unknowable."

What to expect during a periodical cicada emergence

Cicadas have been around for 250 million years, through all parts of the world, succeeding with their sole goal: procreation. While that’s essentially the objective of all creatures, it’s very pointedly so for these single-minded bugs. The ritual begins with the cicada nymphs crawling from the ground; they “know” to emerge by counting the annual cycles of the vegetation they feed on underground, says John Cooley, a cicada expert and professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Connecticut.

They immediately climb the nearest vertical structure, usually a tree, where they shed their exoskeleton. That’s when their wings start to plump up and their soft, exposed body begins to harden.

Larson breaks down the rest of the mating ritual this way. Male cicadas start to sing to recruit other male cicadas. (“They’re sort of saying, ‘Hey, bros. Let’s get together; let’s make a band.’ ”) That larger group produces a chorus alerting female cicadas that they’re healthy and ready to mate. When the females flock to the trees, they pair up with a male and listen to courtship songs. If a female accepts, she clicks her wings. The male dies, and the female flies away to lay her eggs before also perishing.

“It’s a huge party, basically — it’s lots of singing, hooking up,” says Larson. Of course, the adults don’t survive, so it’s also reminiscent, he says, of a “macabre Mardi Gras.”

Not every state, and not every county within a state, is going to be affected.

Annual cicadas are different: Greenish colored, they emerge in much smaller numbers every year from June to September, and are more active. Periodical cicadas, meanwhile — emerging from their underground lairs “when the irises bloom,” says Larson — are black, about 1 to 2 inches long, with horror-film-ready red-orange eyes, and sluggish after their epic naps.

Their emergence is one of nature’s wildest shows, and people in the middle of it tend to find it either endlessly fascinating or positively horrifying.

Home & Real Estate

ADT™ Home Security

Savings on monthly home security monitoring

See more Home & Real Estate offers >

Love ’em or hate ’em?

A periodical cicada season is not for the faint of heart. There can be more than a million cicadas per acre in some areas, which means their quivering — then dead — bodies can end up covering vast expanses of lawns, trees and sidewalks (where they crunch when you walk on them, cicada haters like to point out). And their shrill mating calls are deafening, often compared to a jackhammer or lawnmower in terms of decibel level.

Also, they might pee on your head: “They do pass fluids through their bodies,” Cooley affirms. “This phenomenon is called ‘cicada rain.’ ”

The ancient Greek poets revered the bug, according to AtlasObscura.com, which quotes some of the gushing classical odes to cicadas (“Esteemed you are by every human / As the summer’s sweet-voiced prophet / Muses love you, and Apollo too / Who’s gifted you with high pitched song”).

Well, maybe not every human …

John Scheinman, 63, of Baltimore, recounts being “paralyzed with fear” during one “nightmarish” cicada emergence. “I couldn’t believe how gigantic they were,” says Scheinman, a professional writer.

He recounts one flying through his car window while he was driving. The cicada landed just inside the car door, at eye level.

“I was looking at this thing and it was looking at me, and I sailed right through a red light,” he says. “I would’ve driven off a cliff.”

Cicadas bump up tourism

Some interested in the overlapping broods use online discussion boards to chat with other “cicada-curious” enthusiasts about where to travel for the best views.

Larson hopes people will help map the emergences by submitting photographs of periodical cicadas, along with a geocode, to the free Cicada Safari app. Once the emergences have been verified, they’ll be posted to a live map.

spinner image AARP Membership Card

LEARN MORE ABOUT AARP MEMBERSHIP.

Get instant access to members-only products and hundreds of discounts, a free second membership, and a subscription to AARP the Magazine.

“This helps us stay up to date on where these cicadas are,” Larson says. “There have been brood extinctions in the past, and we’re just trying to keep track of everything they’re up to — and it’s hard when you have these 13- and 17-year gaps.”

Katie Dana, an affiliate with the Illinois Natural History Survey at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, has been planning for this double emergence for years. During the 2021 emergence of Brood X after 17 years, she took her young son to parks, looking for cicadas in a particular species “infected with a really cool fungus,” she recalls.

Dana has traveled far and wide hunting for cicadas — some of which she has brought home to live on her house plants.

“Sometimes they’ll sing for us,” she says.

Taste-testing the bugs

These large emergences provide an epic feast for squirrels, birds and other creatures, including dogs and cats.

While cicadas aren’t toxic, they could easily upset a pet’s stomach if too many are consumed.

That said, “there are a lot of funny videos of dogs having cicadas screaming in their mouths,” Dana says. “I think it’s just a lot of fun for them.”

She has plans for putting the bugs in her own mouth. She has heard of people coating them in chocolate after soaking them in peppermint schnapps. In fact, they’re a novelty ingredient for more than a few humans, some of whom have compared their flavor to shrimp.

People do sometimes get confused about the best way to eat them, adds Dana. The right time to collect cicadas is as soon as they come out of the ground and shed their shells, when they’re still soft.

“If you’re eating an adult, it’s going to be crunchy,” she says. “You want something that’s actually palatable and isn’t going to get stuck in your throat, so you need those cicadas that are still kind of squishy.”

Editor's note: This article was originally published on March 31, 2021. It has been updated to reflect new information.

Discover AARP Members Only Access

Join AARP to Continue

Already a Member?