In the next week or so, billions of red-eyed, black-bodied, orange-legged cicadas will emerge from the ground. The latest generation of cicadas, known as Brood II, have spent 17 years in the dark. They have been down there since Derek Jeter’s rookie season, several feet beneath your feet, sucking on liquids from tree roots, waiting for their moment.
And when they do emerge – one night, likely between May 18 and 24, when the soil reaches the magic temperature of 64 degrees – they will attach to a vertical surface, split open their backs and clamber out of their exoskeleton. They will climb into the tops of trees, start to fly, make an ungodly racket in their search of a mate, lay eggs – and, within weeks, drop dead.
They will be gone before Jeter even gets off the disabled list.
“We should feel lucky and special to witness this – there’s nothing like this anywhere else in the world,” said Andrew Liebhold, a research entomologist with the U.S. Forest Service.
These bugs, known as periodical cicadas, are different from the annual cicadas, which have more of a green body and show up each summer. If you look around the base of trees, you might already be able to spot the holes that periodical cicada nymphs are digging to prepare for their emergence.
The suburbs are generally good habitat for cicadas since they like to lay eggs on young trees and they prefer the edge of forests. How many will emerge “depends on how much development has occurred and how many trees have been cut down since the last emergence,” said George Hamilton, an entomologist at Rutgers University. “They’re stuck in the ground for 17 years, and if they suddenly have no food source, they die.”