Sights and sounds of one of nature’s most unusual life cycles and romantic serenades are now emerging in parts of the United States, including portions of the mid-Atlantic region.
But if you’re planning a party to celebrate the emergence of periodical cicadas — also known as “Brood X” — from their 17-year inground hibernation, you shouldn’t do so in Delaware.
All of Kent and Sussex counties and most of New Castle County will neither see the swarms of millions upon millions of the red-eyed bugs, nor hear the overpowering, almost deafening mating call of the males of the species.
“When you look at scientific papers where they have confirmed sightings, … we’re just not going to get them,” said Tracy Wootten, Sussex County horticulturalist agent for the Delaware Cooperative Extension of the University of Delaware.
“We will not have Brood X cicadas in Sussex County, regardless (of) what the press says,” said Delaware Master Gardener Linda Peters.
There are several theories, Ms. Wootten said.
For one, sandy soil predominant in Delaware is simply not conducive to cicadas during their extended underground stay.
There is also a theory that during changing periods in the glacial age, most of the Eastern Shore was underwater and thus inaccessible to cicadas.
Recently, Ms. Wootten attended a presentation on cicadas by Mike Raupp, professor of entomology at the University of Maryland. On the glacier theory, Ms. Wootten noted that Mr. Raupp joked, “Cicadas can hold their breath, but I doubt they can hold it that long.”
She said she has received inquiries from people wanting to come to Delaware to witness this phenomenon, as well as “people who want to get away.”
“People are calling me and asking, especially anybody that had moved here from the Western Shore or Pennsylvania that experienced them. They know what to expect,” said Ms. Wootten. “And if they have moved into this area, they don’t realize we are not getting them.”
People new to the area who want the scoop on cicadas should bug their neighbors, if they were living here in 2004 or 1987.
“Talk to your neighbors. If they were here in 2004, ask them if they saw them — or heard them,” said Ms. Wootten. “I’m local. I was born here. I grew up here in Sussex County. I’ve never experienced them.”
Bottom line: Central and southern Delaware won’t experience the massive invasion of cicadas emerging from the ground, ascending into treetops to avoid a host of predators and sounding off with their famous mating calls.
The 17-year Brood X cicadas were last seen and heard in 2004 in about 15 states, including the northern tip of Delaware, south-central/southeastern Pennsylvania, northern portions of Maryland and Virginia and northeastern West Virginia.
The well-rested bugs will emerge in 2021 when soil temperatures a foot or so underground reach 64 degrees.
While underground, the insects suck on plant sap.
Once in trees, it’s only the males that sing, seeking to woo females to mate.
When an entire brood emerges, backyards can resemble undulating waves, and the chorus can top 100 decibels, equal to a lawnmower or jackhammer.
How these cicadas, like clockwork, know when to emerge from the earth remains an unsolved mystery.
According to the University of Maryland Department of Entomology’s Cicada Crew, one hypothesis is that the bugs track time through sensing seasonal changes in plant nutrients. Another is that the bugs have a yet-unknown internal molecular clock.
“They still haven’t figured out how they sense that,” Ms. Wootten said. “That hasn’t truly been figured out yet.”
While annoying to many and scary to some, cicadas are basically harmless. They do not bite or sting but have sucking mouthparts and might poke a person’s hand if they were to hold one.
Brood X cicadas are edible options for many small mammals, such as skunks, raccoons and squirrels, as well as rodents, amphibians, reptiles, birds, other insects, fish and, yes, even humans.
Ms. Wootten plans to experience the 2021 cicadas’ arrival through family ties. Her son lives in Wilmington, and her daughter resides in Downingtown, Pennsylvania, west of Philadelphia.
“So I am actually going to travel to hear them,” she said.