They have been growing and feasting on tree sap underground since 1999, but now the next generation of 17-year cicadas will be emerging in huge numbers all over the northeast as the springtime sun heats up. Luckily, the swarms are harmless, but residents can expect a noisy couple of weeks as the billions of bugs call for their mates.

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The science behind cicadas is quite fascinating and researchers are still learning about the bugs’ reproductive cycles. This year’s 17-year cicadas are called Brood V and actually consist of three different species. There are also 13-year cicadas and annual varieties, and Brood V is set to cover the grounds of Ohio, New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, and West Virginia as soon as the underground temperature reaches 64 degrees Fahrenheit.

Cicada nymphs burrow underground after they hatch from their eggs, chowing down on plant saps for sustenance. Since plants in the northeast are dormant half of the year during colder seasons, it takes quite a long time for the nymphs to mature. Scientists also suspect the unexpected, mass emergence of the critters serves as a survival technique, as predators are taken off guard and more of the cicadas are likely to survive long enough to reproduce.

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The most notable trait of the cicadas is the ear-splitting cacophony of mating calls during the 3-5 week period they search for mates and lay their eggs. But, some residents are able to look past the vexing racket and embrace the bugs’ arrival. Cleveland Metroparks is planning on hosting an array of events during the month of May, such as “Cicada Invasion” and a pontoon boat birding and cicada observation adventure. Because cicadas do not sting or bite, are not harmful when eaten by animals, and even help prune branches off mature trees when they lay eggs the creatures are more or less revered in some areas. Once the Brood V eggs hatch and the nymphs burrow underground, as did their parents, it will be another 17 years until the next invasion. Until then, northeasterners can grab their hiking sticks and invest in some quality ear plugs.

Via Discovery News

Images via Wikimedia (1,2,3)