Ugly and almost comical, 17-year cicadas are back in Pennsylvania

Bil Bowden


The fear in his eyes was obvious. These 'things', these beastly creatures with bright red eyes and prickly legs landed simultaneously in his hair and on his arm, and his reaction was instant and frightening. His scream was painful to hear and the speed with which he tried to escape the things was downright olympic-esque.ID=85834018

He survived, of course, we all will. The creatures that 'attacked' this young man were the now-emerging 17-year cicadas, or as they're commonly and incorrectly known, locusts. As evil looking as they are--their bulging bright red (sometimes blue) eyes are out of a sci-fi movie-- they won't sting or bite. But they'll harass you, as a Washington County homeowner admitted. They'll land on you and you'll unknowingly take them in the house on shirt or pants, only to buzz around moments later in an apparent suicidal collision flight into everything in the house.

They are big and fast enough that if one accidentally flies into you, it might leave a mark. Once past the creepiness factor, they're almost comical looking. Really.

17-year cicadas aren't expected to emerge near York County until Brood X is 'born' from the ground in 2021. Annual cicadas will still be a regular visitor, however. 

ID=85834028The cicadas moved out of the ground through holes about the size of a pencil when ground temperatures about eight inches deep reached 64 degrees. Once out of the ground, they climbed up trees, plants, buildings or whatever's available to stretch their wings and fly away. If you are standing there, they'll latch onto you, too. It's a creepy feeling, but try to relax-- they won't hurt you. Of course, be aware of ticks or bees or other crawling creatures that might be harmful. And maybe that's why the little boy above-- or anyone-- feels compelled to run or shriek when a cicada lands on us. Cicadas are big, ugly and look prehistoric, but harmless. Unless, of course, you're a tree, where they lay their eggs.

Although harmless, cicadas can be a nuisance. There are so many hatching now in Washington County that the rotting bodies stink. Really stink. Shells cover the ground at the base of nearly every tree, and you can't help but step on those that are still walking across the grass. And they crunch.  Very gross. Dogs eat them, sometimes with disastrous results. Birds sometimes harvest them off the ground. Squirrels will eat them, wild turkeys get fat on them, and fishermen use them for lures.

Cicadas are so much of a problem in some places, Cicada Mania has even offered a Wedding Planner site so they don't explode the wedding in a disaster of screaming guests and  buzzing cicadas.ID=85834032

South of Pittsburgh, the 17-year cicadas are at their peak. Driving down area highway, roll down the windows and listen to the cicadas' song. Well, it's more of a buzz when one is combined with the millions of its friends. Please don't call them locusts, which they aren't. Locusts are a type of grasshopper, while cicadas are cousins of crickets.  And we all know crickets can muster a loud song at night, which might explain the buzzing you thought was a problem with your car. It was the male cicadas. Females don't 'sing'.

From Years ago, colonists assumed these large clouds of insects emerging from the ground periodically were swarms of destructive locusts -- not clouds of less harmful cicadas.

There is a lot of fascinating information about cicadas on line, including Cicada Mania on Facebook.

Time Online produced in 2011 an interesting-- and some might say disgusting-- article called "Sixteen Ways to Eat a Cicada".  It seems like a terrible waste of sugar and milk chocolate. In 2013, National Geographic published "Adventures in But Eating".  Again, gross. But the article is funny.

So, if you have the time, and you're looking for a way to spend the weekend, head toward Pittsburgh, enjoy the Pennsylvania Turnpike and listen for what sounds like your car's fan belt slipping. It's just the  gazillion -- at least -- 17-year cicadas singing to you and their female friends.