After living underground for 17 years, large populations of cicadas will soon emerge from their homes throughout the eastern U.S., including parts of North Georgia.
The cohort of insects, known as Brood X, will begin their grand entrance from late April to early May. These periodical cicadas have never known a world without Blockbuster, flip phones and George W. Bush as president. For nearly two decades, they have been feasting on tree roots, patiently waiting to make their dramatic debut.
Evan Lampert, a local entomologist, has also been waiting. The University of North Georgia Gainesville campus professor has already scouted cicada holes around Ellijay and parts of North Georgia for the past two weeks.
“It’s a really amazing treat we get every 17 years in the United States that we get to see just this density of insects,” Lampert said.
The entomologist said Brood X has three major populations, one of which touches southern Appalachia, eastern Tennessee, western N.C. and North Georgia. Based on the data from 2004, Lampert said people living in Dahlonega, Cleveland, Helen and anywhere in the Chattahoochee National Forest should soon begin to witness the thousands of 17-year cicadas.
“It is possible that they could be found in Hall County, there are just no 2004 records of that,” he added.
Taking advantage of Brood X’s entrance, Lampert intends to collect data with a group of UNG students to answer questions that have been unanswered for years.
“We’re really interested in looking at how their distribution has changed since 2004, and I’m interested in filling in these really cool holes about their biology and ecology,” Lampert said.
The research team plans to record population densities in Georgia, as well as information about the species makeup in the cohort, parasites found in 17-year cicadas, the type of trees used for the female insect’s egg-laying and other details about the brood.
So far, Lampert said his students have measured hole densities made by nymphs (premature cicadas) between Dahlonega and Cleveland.
If someone sees or hears these insects, Lampert encourages them to either let him know by sending a message to firstname.lastname@example.org or record the sighting by visiting cicadasafari.org, which was started by Gene Kritsky, a cicada expert.
Unlike the green or brown annual cicadas people are used to seeing around Georgia, 17-year cicadas can be identified by their black bodies, orange wing margins and bright red eyes.
Lampert said there are seven species of periodical cicada, including four 13-year cicadas and three 17-year cicadas. The most common in Georgia is the Magicicada septendecim.
Lampert anticipates the nymphs will arrive this week or next, finding a vertical surface to shed their exoskeletons. They will then arise as adults, and prepare for their biggest performance yet — mating.
Lampert said the song of male cicadas will fill the air, reaching 90-100 decibels, loud enough for both humans and female cicadas to notice. The entomologist compares the sound to the word “Pharaoh,” which is where their other common namesake “Pharaoh cicada” comes from.
“If you’re close enough, I heard it can be astonishingly loud,” Lampert said.
After the cicadas mate, the female insects will lay hundreds of eggs inside slits they cut into new growth trees. Then, the adult cicadas will die.
“It’s a big massive explosion of reproduction,” Lampert said.
Once the eggs hatch later in the summer, new nymphs will burrow into their new homes underground, beginning the 17-year cycle again.