Apr 17, 2024 - News

STD-riddled "zombie" cicadas are coming in hot

An orange and black cicada

A periodical cicada from the Great Southern Brood emergence in 2011. Photo: Nancy Hinkle/The University of Georgia

They're coming. Billions, if not trillions, of a rare breed of cicadas — Brood XIX — are about to crawl out of their underground bunkers, where for 13 years they've been suckling on tree roots, waiting to emerge.

Why it matters: Richmond is one of a handful of places in Virginia likely to experience this wonder of nature firsthand.

State of play: These aren't just any old, everyday cicadas. Some of the red-eyed Brood XIX are expected to surface with a fungus that turns them into hypersexual, frantically-mating zombies that spread the fungus like an STD and keep going until their genitals fall off, CBS News reports.

  • For real.

Yes, but: Only around 5% of cicadas are fungus-infected, (but, but, but: 5% of a trillion still sounds like a hell of a lot of sex-crazed, eunuch insects flying around).

Zoom in: Virginia is at the "very edge" of where Brood XIX will emerge, Doug Pfeiffer, Virginia Tech professor of Entomology, tells Axios.

  • Fourteen states — including Arkansas, Georgia, North Carolina and Tennessee — are expected to see Broods XIX, aka, the Great Southern Brood.
  • In Virginia, they'll likely be limited to the North Carolina border, south of Caroline County and east of I-95 — making a Richmond sighting a strong possibility, but not a definite one, Pfeiffer says.
  • Urban development, and a lack of trees, can also affect where they emerge since they need trees to survive.

Threat level: Despite their red eyes, these cicadas — even the STD-riddled, 🍆-less zombie ones — are perfectly harmless to humans and animals.

  • In fact, when they die they enrich the soil with valuable nutrients.

How it works: The timing is contingent on soil temperatures; their emergence could begin as early as late April or in early May, Pfeiffer says.

  • Either way, the cicadas, like their everyday cousins, will only stick around for about five to six weeks, singing their mating call and doing the deed, before they die off and we don't see this particular species for another 13 years.

The big picture: Virginia will not be part of the big deal "double brood" where, for the first time in more than 200 years, two specific broods of droning cicadas are expected to emerge from the ground simultaneously this spring, Axios' Jacob Knutson reports.

  • Brood XIII, the 17-year vintage, will hit the Midwest and largely Illinois, which will experience the full double brood.

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