Creepy-crawly bugs and critters: With summer on the way, news outlets have fallen hard for the sensational story of billions of cicadas, the fruit of a 17-year gestational cycle, that are set to soon overtake the eastern United States.
But though the press loves a good insect invasion story, the much-hyped “Brood X” cicada wave that’s created such a noisy national sensation probably won’t be infesting the Cullman area — at least, not to the extent that it’s likely to do elsewhere. North Alabama is a natural habitat for the recurring annual variety of cicadas, and their loud mating chirp is a familiar hallmark of summer. But researchers who’ve tracked the far more numerous Brood X cicada outbreak forecast that the billions of new bugs will likely emerge in states farther north — especially in Indiana, Ohio, Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Delaware.
“We’ll probably still have our annual cicadas,” said Cullman Agriplex director Rachel Dawsey on Friday. “Whether it’s the annual kind, or the periodic kind that are supposed to come out this year, they all have a distinctive sound. They’re really loud — one of the loudest insects and one of the loudest animals in general.”
The so-called Brood X cicada outbreak is expected to spawn billions — perhaps even trillions — of the giant insects this month, which researchers say are harmless except for the nuisance their sheer numbers can create. And while national tracking maps do show their potential range could reach into the U.S. Deep South, the nearest predicted outbreak area lies far to the east in north Georgia and northeastern Tennessee.
Unlike the “annual” cicadas that emerge with varying frequency from one summer to the next, Brood X is part of a “periodic” cicada generation; one whose gestational cycle lasts for an estimated 17 years. The developing insects spend nearly all of that time underground, subsisting on the xylem of tree roots, before emerging in a horde for only a few short weeks in early summer — with the males spending their short above-ground lives “singing” their mating call and breeding the next generation, before the entire freshly-spawned batch of insects dies en masse.
The distinct sound that both types of cicada make is hard to describe, but there’s a sure way to know whether you’re on the right track: If it’s nighttime, what you’re hearing in the outdoor distance probably isn’t cicadas.
“They sing in the daytime,” said Dawsey. “They’re louder than a lawnmower. But if it’s nighttime and you hear insects singing, what you’re probably hearing is katydids.”