Mar 15, 2024 - News

Get ready, North Carolina. Cicadas are coming

cicadas

Photo: Creative Touch Imaging Ltd./NurPhoto via Getty Images

North Carolina can expect a lot of insect company at picnics and playgrounds in the coming months.

Why it matters: The U.S. will experience a rare phenomenon this spring: Two broods of cicadas are expected to emerge from the ground simultaneously. Our state will likely see one of these broods starting in April or May.

Zoom out: Cicadas are harmless and beneficial to local environments, so they're not considered pests. But they sure are noisy.

  • That high-pitched buzz that's a classic sound of summer? That's the male cicada's mating call.

What they're saying: "There've been estimates that where they do emerge, there can be up to a million per acre," Eric Benson, an entomologist at Clemson University, tells Axios. "It's going to be a lot of cicadas."

Yes, but: The Carolinas won't see and hear all of the trillions of cicadas expected to emerge around the U.S. in this year's double brood.

  • Brood XIX will emerge across several counties in North Carolina and across several other states, per the Wilmington Star News. They'll appear in Charlotte, plus western North Carolina and parts of the Triangle, too.
  • Brood XIII is expected in states across the Midwest at the same time.

Fun fact: Broods XIX and XIII haven't specifically co-emerged since 1803, Axios' Jacob Knutson reports.

How it works: After cicadas mate, the female puts her eggs in a tree and the adults die off. The eggs hatch within a month or so, Benson says, and the young cicadas fall to the ground, burrow into the soil at the base of a tree and latch onto a root.

  • They feed on the fluid of a tree for 13 years, slowly growing underground before the brood emerges en masse.

A few things to know about this year's big cicada event:

Snake buffet: "When cicadas come out in a month or so, it's going to be predator smorgasbord. An all-you-can-eat buffet," for cicada predators like snakes, skunks, possums and birds, Benson tells Axios.

  • But the number of predators will not increase as a result of the influx of cicadas. "The ones that are here will be very well satisfied," he adds.

Different looks: There's a difference in appearance between periodic cicadas (in Brood XIX) and annual cicadas, or the ones that you hear buzzing in our trees every summer.

  • Periodic cicadas are slightly smaller, with black bodies and wings with orange marks, plus red eyes, Benson says.
  • Annual cicadas are bigger, with black or dark green bodies and black eyes.
  • For anyone especially interested in cicadas, you can report sightings of periodic cicadas via the 2024 Periodical Cicada Brood Watch and iNaturalist.

Short-lived: This year's cicadas will only stick around for about a month, Kelly Oten, NC State Extension entomologist and specialist in the Department of Forestry and Environmental Resources, told the News & Observer recently.

  • The last time this brood emerged in both the Triangle and the Charlotte area was in 2011, per Oten. They emerged in early May.

Environmentally beneficial: Cicadas can aerate lawns, improve water filtration into the ground and add nutrients to the soil they decompose, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

  • Some research shows that female cicadas can improve the health of a tree by laying her eggs in its roots, Benson says. But when a tree is cut down, it removes young cicadas' food source.
  • "This has been going on since before recorded time. The thing that really knocks cicadas back is humans and development over time," he adds.

Editor's note: We've updated this story with details about cicada sightings.

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