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The Cicadas Are Coming

In just a few weeks, cicadas will be swarming the Washington region. The so-called "Brood II" cicadas were last seen 17 years ago, and their upcoming arrival is causing both excitement and despair. Entomologist Mike Raupp is among those eagerly awaiting the cicadas, which he says perform important ecological functions. Raupp joins us to chat about "Brood II" and other insect stories in our area.

Cicadas Descend On D.C.

Any day now, swarms of cicadas will return to the Mid-Atlantic region. Last seen in 1996, the 17-year Brood II cicada population will emerge this spring once the ground temperature consistently reaches 64 degrees, 8 inches below ground. It's expected to be the biggest swarm to hit the D.C. metro area since Brood X in 2004. Michael Raupp, an entomology professor at the University of Maryland, says there could be as many as 1 billion cicadas per square mile.

But areas hugging the coast will be spared from the swarm. Scientists say cicadas don't burrow in sand, so beaches and shorelines will be relatively quiet. Anne Arundel County and southern Maryland are the closest areas to the coast likely to experience cicadas.

Not to be confused with annual cicadas gatherings, which appear later in the summer, red-eyed brood cicadas emerge periodically to shed their exoskeletons, sing, fly and mate. Unlike locusts, which come in swarms and destroy crops, cicadas don't do much damage. The next time we'll hear their distinctive screeching will be in 2021 when Brood X reappears.

Sights And Sounds Of Cicadas

Some of the first Brood II cicadas to hit the D.C. region emerged from the ground this past weekend, says University of Maryland entomologist Michael Raupp. See one of the area's first Brood II cicada nymphs climbing out of the dirt.

The distinctive buzz of the 13-year Brood XIX is heard in Charlotte, N.C., in 2011.

Follow a cicada as it emerges from the ground and looks for a place to molt.

Hundreds of 17-year cicadas unearth and climb trees in southwest Ohio.

Detailed images show adult cicadas and the molting process. All photos by Michael Raupp.

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