Harmless scientific marvel though it may be, millions or even billions of cicadas rising up out of the ground for the first time in 17 years will make for a pretty gross summer of bug love once you see — and hear — your first buzzsaw-level backyard sexcapade, which could arrive as soon as this weekend, if it hasn't already. And for those of you with a fear of flying insects, it's downright terrifying. So we put together a handy guide for East Coast entomophobes, with the help of cicada expert Dr. John Cooley, who runs the online cicada bible Magicada.
Step 1: Prepare for the Long Haul
North Carolina is in the midst of its four- to six-week cicada boom right now, but the underground invasion is on the move. Despite what WNYC's Radiolab cicada tracker map indicates about the early sex movement in New York and New Jersey, the worst is yet to come to the mid-Atlantic from this year's brood. "Accounts you are seeing aren't the real emergence," Cooley told The Atlantic Wire. "Up north, that's a month away. At most, in New York, people have seen nymphs or a few oddball early cicadas."
That the New York region has not yet reached peak cicada season is at once calming and alarming. The anticipation alone can be crippling for anyone in the Northeast with a yard or a patch of grass, soon to be swarmed by fornication sounds and then the remains of cicadas who have risen, done the deed, and left their shells to ruin your property in a hot, sweaty reminder of arthropods past. But it's best to prepare yourself, to get a decent pair of noise-canceling headphones for enjoying said yard, because Cooley says it'll be a couple weeks yet for the New York/New Jersey area. Forget the Insect Spring — you might have to deal with the bussing well into July.
Step 2: Remember That Not Every Flying Thing Is a Cicada
Undoubtedly — and understandably — entomophobes start mistaking other insects for cicadas. After all, they've been gone for a generation, and nobody likes looking at pictures of these things up close. But, alas, that's how cicada fear breeds more cicada fear, and Cooley says the case of mistaken bug-sex identity has probably led to much of the false bug reporting on the amateur — if handy, and brave — map from the folks at WNYC and Radiolab. "When you look at my website, I've got records in the ocean, in Texas, and New Zealand — crowdsourcing just works like that," says Cooley. And it's true: cicadas are all over the Magicada map. But sometimes that thing on your shoulder is a leaf in the wind. Brush your shoulder off. Breathe. We got you.
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Step 3: Find the Closest Cicada Safe Haven
Despite news reports that the bugs may emerge up and down the Eastern seaboard, that doesn't mean every inch of all of those states will find itself covered. "The broods fit together like puzzle pieces and they don't tend to overlap," Cooley explains. This year we're going to see Brood II, which hits parts of the Carolinas to Connecticut, as you can see in that useful map to the right. Here are a few safe locations:
- Manhattan The Big Apple is a bit too heavy on the concrete for the bugs to emerge. Even the city parks aren't nature-y enough for the cicadas to have survived long enough for their emergence. "There are patches of green, like Central Park," Cooley says. "It has a limited number of acres, and it's boxed in all the sides — things like seagulls clean out the cicadas." Cooley adds that Brooklyn and Queens are probably safe, too. Especially if you have a pet seagull.
- Washington, D.C. The nation's capital has its very own set of bugs: Brood X, which already surfaced in 2004. They're not due back for a while.
- The Shenandoah Valley This Virginia region is officially a Brood I zone, although our super-scared readers might not want to venture over, because the valley is also adjacent to a Brood II locale, and the pests come right up to the borders. Stay on the safe side of the Blue Ridge Mountains if you're road-tripping it this summer.
- Anywhere west of the Great Planes or north of the great lakes. Periodical cicadas — the ones that come up once every 13 or 17 years — are pretty much an East Coast thing. So if you don't want to have to keep track of which brood will attack when, just head West. Due West.
Step 3(b): Whatever You Do, Don't Go to the Bronx Zoo
"I have high hopes up by the Bronx Zoo," said Cooley, who is very enthusiastic about seeing these bugs, unlike some of us. "It's really wooded up there — and the woods just go all the way up the river forever." Which, gross, but because of all the greenery, the zoo will be a prime urban love den for the cicadas. So just save that Sunday afternoon with the elephants for later in the summer, okay? This rule really applies to any wooded or green areas. When we spoke to him earlier this week, Cooley had just come from a "green, leafy" Newark suburb and had spotted a few cicadas while he was there. Further South, here's a where's a hole list of places to avoid in the DC-Maryland-Virginia area while you're at it.
Step 3(c): When In Doubt, Go the Beach
Sorry if we bummed you out about staying clear of greener pastures. But, not all outdoor summertime activities are in danger of transforming into bug brothels. Beach-goers, rejoice: Cicadas don't like sand or sandy soil. Except for Long Island. They like Long Island. But this year's brood isn't going to be on Long Island. Yes, the Hamptons are safe from the vermin. At least this particular kind.
Step 4: Put Things in Perspective
Cicadas aren't dangerous at all. They don't bite or sting. They are here to make babies! The males just fly around from tree to tree, playing their love songs in the hopes of wooing a lady with whom to make babies. Four-hundred of them at a time. Maybe more. So, yeah, not exactly cuddly, but still.
But, really, if you think about it, bugs are everywhere all the time. "The density of cockroaches in Manhattan is far greater than the density of cicadas," Cooley assured us. "There are several million per acre, probably — they just aren't all noisy and flying around." That's obviously disgusting as well, but he's right: Roaches are all around us, all day. And, well, we hate to say it, but there will actually be way more cicadas lurching around at the end of the summer, once the mommy cicadas lay their eggs. And you won't even notice the babies! The little ones are so tiny that they don't even fly around, and they certainly don't sing super-loud sex music.
Also, it's time to stop being so selfish. Cicadas will be great for the environment. "It's going to be a tremendous boom year for anything that can eat cicada," Cooley explained. From pigeons to ants, the animals around Brood II are going to feast. So there's that.
Step 4(b): DO NOT CLICK THIS LINK
Step 5: Have a Little Cicada Related Fun
Take advantage of the festivity in the air. There's something about scientific phenomena that, no matter how scary, make people giddy. And the Great Cicada Freakout of 2013, while perhaps a bit silly, is no exception. Washington residents can expect some cicada themed cocktails — or even cicada theme parties. If you're feeling dangerous, collect some shells to trade in for a computer discount at PC Retro.
Most importantly, this will all be over by the end of July. And then we won't have to see these suckers — or listen to them mate — for another 17 years.
- John Cooley