With spring fast approaching, scientists in the United States and Canada are preparing for another season of murder hornets in the Pacific Northwest, according to KIRO7.
Known formally as the Asian giant hornet, these terrifying buggers have become the focus of an international eradication effort, with the Washington State Department of Agriculture preparing to trap the pest which packs a wicked sting.
Also returning as part of a 17-year cycle are billions of cicadas known as "Brood X" which will cover much of the United States beginning in late April or early May, where they will commit suicide on countless windshields as they blacken the skies "from Illinois to the west, Georgia to the south, and New York to the northeast," according to NBC News.
The young cicadas, called "nymphs," claw their way out of the ground and climb up to shed their skins one last time and transform into adults. They will have only a few weeks to sing, mate and begin the cycle again.
There are seven species of North American periodical cicadas, all in the genus Magicicada. Four species live on a 13-year cycle, and three for 17 years.
This year's "Brood X" - named simply because it's the 10th occurrence, the first of which was named by entomologist Charles Lester Marlatt in 1898. This year's super-brood, also known as the "Great Eastern Brood," will contain all three 17-year species.
They're coming! This is the year of the 17-year cicada in our area. There will be trillions of them in early summer. They are harmless. They are loud. They are high in protein, if you're into that. They don't social distance. It's a phenomenon of nature to be enjoyed. Can't wait! pic.twitter.com/WR5qWCXq3m— Fairfax County Parks (@fairfaxparks) March 4, 2021
Most of the world's over 3,000 species of cicada don't make quite as dramatic an entrance. While they take two to five years to grow up, at least some adults of these annual species show up every summer, and in much smaller numbers.
Periodical species, where all of them consistently have the same, extralong life cycle that culminates in a mass emergence, are incredibly rare. With just one recently discovered, exception — the 8-year train millipedes in Japan — cicadas are the only insects that have evolved to live this way. -NBC News
Why the long life-cycle and mass emergence?
"During the glacial periods [of the past few million years], we think that they probably extended their life cycles, because the growing season was too short to complete development at their previous time," said University of Connecticut cicada researcher and professor, Chris Simon.
Living or traveling to areas in yellow May/June? You will get a treat or a nightmare that comes only every #17years. #Cicadas are going to be noisily mating this spring, trillions of them. This is a big #brood. #insects #cicadapalooza #Cicadastock #enotomophobia 🪲🦗🐛🐞🐝🐜🕷️ pic.twitter.com/zjWvWd8wcQ— Dave Epstein (@growingwisdom) February 26, 2021
Another theory is "predator satiation," where after a certain point any predator won't physically be able to consume any more prey. With a large synchronized group, most of the prey survives.
"That favored individuals that came out together, because they survived better," said Simon, adding "Then, there's a kind of feedback loop ... If they come out on other years … they'll get eaten by predators. And they also won't be able to find mates."
Of note, unlike murder hornets, cicadas are gentle - and don't bite or sting. They aren't attracted to people, rather, they go towards noises according to Simon.
More information about Brood X and periodical cicadas in general can be found on the website Cicada Mania, and on the University of Connecticut's Cicada Homepage. Simon's colleagues have also designed a smartphone app, Cicada Safari (available both for iOS and Android), that allows anyone to be an amateur entomologist. (via NBC News)