Every Seventeen Years


A couple of weeks ago, on a walk through the woods near our house, we kept seeing little mud tubes around the bases of trees.  We had no idea what they were, and I wish now that I’d taken a photo of one of them.  Over the weekend I discovered that they are cicada chimneys ,while I was doing some research on periodical cicadas.  People in my area have been talking about these insects for months now, some claiming that they won’t be leaving their houses during the few weeks that the cicadas are out and about.  These particular cicadas, that began emerging in our backyard a few days ago, are from the genus Magicicada and the neat thing is that they only emerge every 17 years.  I am not well versed in the lingo, but each emerging generation of these cicadas is called a brood, and scientists are able to predict when and where they will emerge.  There are four species with 13 year life cycles, and three with 17 year life cycles.  They are found east of the Mississippi, and you can look for your state and the year that you would expect them to emerge on a chart such as this one.

These cicadas are supposedly some of the loudest insects, but I am not sure I’ve really noticed their songs yet.  That may be because each morning as a new group of them emerge, my boys gather them up by the dozens in a bucket, and feed them to the chickens.  The chickens clearly consider periodical cicadas to be a delicacy to be fought over.  My girls are horrified at the injustice of it all, so the boys have to be sneaky when it comes to actually giving the chickens their insect treats.

I guess it’s possible that over the next few weeks our backyard will become something like a scene from a horror movie:  crawling with large, red-eyed, winged insects, but right now we think this is really cool.  As far as we can tell, the emergence of these periodical cicadas is pretty darn exciting.  After all, this only happens every seventeen years.  We’re making cicada memories here.


  1. My first year living in Delaware was a cicada year. I remember walking the paths to my classroom buildings and being simultaneously awed and disgusted by all of the cicada corpses littered about. We have a 17 year type here so I still have another 8 years to wait until they reemerge.

  2. Lang Elliott has a book which comes with a CD

    The ones we have here in Maine are the DOG DAY Cicada, because they come in the Dog Days of summer

    I highly reccommend this book and CD, you get grasshoppers, katydids etc with beautiful colors and recordings to help you identify what you are hearing.

    We would like to visit somewhere one time when there is an emergence, I’ll have to look up the chart and see what is close to us

  3. I live in WV (about 2 hours south of Pittsburgh, PA in the Northern Panhandle) and we had the invasion of the cicadas when my kids were little, back in 1999. (According to your map link, it was Brood V.) I don’t have fond memories at all and did not enjoy the experience in any way. LOL I was totally grossed out by them (so ugly). Several fell down our chimney and ended up in my living room which caused me to have a mild heart attack while trying to get them OUT OUT OUT! I was surprised at how loud just 3 of them are, the noise from thousands is SO LOUD it’s not describable, it has to be experienced to be understood. If anyone has lived in the country, or visited the country in the heat of summer, the sound of the cicada is familiar. But the noise from these broods is very different. We lived in town at that time with trees lining the streets, I can’t fathom how loud it will be to have trees surrounding our home full of these creatures singing their love songs like you will experience.
    You’ll have to let us know what your experience is like. We have 3 more years before we have to put up with them again.
    I love how excited your kids are and how not-grossed out they (and you) are! 🙂 I admire your ability to not crawl out of your skin while getting near enough to take your excellent pictures.

  4. Pam Gerhardt says:

    These shots are priceless! That is what I love about Virginia, the beauty, the history, throw in your lovely children and it is all so overwhelmingly beautiful reminding us of God’ s continual blessings.

  5. Cicada exoskeletons are always hugely popular with the under 10’s here because of the way they stick to your clothes. Lots of fun wearing them yourself or putting them on unsuspecting parents!

  6. When I was a young girl in Arlington, VA we had an emergence. They were everywhere – in the trees above, on the sidewalks, covering the bark. There was no way to avoid them, no way not to step on them and you could feel “rain” from them as you walked under trees (they were peeing, I believe). Fascinating, tho also a bit gross. I’d forgotten the noise until I read this but now I can almost hear it; it was loud and distinctive. We haven’t had any here yet this year, but I’ll be interested to see if we do and how my littles react – my 6YO loves bugs, my 3YO, not so much.

  7. I love the information of this post, but the pictures of the cicada’s make me squirm. Something about big beetles and cicadas make me uneasy, I’m fine with other bugs though.

  8. I lived in Japan when I was a child… They were considered sacred there, and like the cricket and lightening bugs they made little cages for the children (and adults) to keep them in. I guess it’s not just chickens that love to eat them, I heard a thing on NPR a few years ago, some college town back East, and there were students from some country, I forget which, that were going out and collecting them to eat, considered a delicacy back home. One of the students was saying how good they are with beer…. YUMMY….except for the beer part, I don’t much like beer.

  9. My daughter is dreading the invasion. I have a mild curiosity about them. If they are in multitude as predicted I shall stay inside.

  10. I learned something I didn’t know today….thanks for the lesson!

  11. We had cicadas emerge in Michigan last summer. I never noticed mud tubes, maybe we don’t have that variety, but I couldn’t miss the shed exoskeletons stuck onto the bark of the trees in my backyard. Those were both fascinating and a bit creepy.

    • The ones emerging in our yard didn’t make the mud tubes either–maybe it has to do with the location? We saw them deep in the woods.

  12. We had a brood to emerge in our part of Virginia last year. We don’t watch TV or much news elsewhere so we didn’t know it was coming. Then I began hearing this hum off in the distance that went on for days and days. I thought it was some type of farm machinery or something. Somehow in talking to others somebody mentioned the cicadas. We drove around trying to find a more exact location of them but the sound was simply everywhere. Never saw too many. Just a few stray ones in the yard. Very fascinating part of God’s creation. It was fun to read up on them. Thanks for sharing.

  13. Annalisa says:

    Hilarious to imagine the disagreement over feeding the cicadas to the chickens. I’m anxiously waiting for cicadas around eastern Mass. to emerge.!

  14. Our big cicada year in my neck of the woods was 2004. My dad had just planted a tree (that had been growing in a nursery for a number of years already) and we had to cover it with sheets so the cicadas couldn’t damage it too much. They nip off the ends of branches, and on a small, new tree it can be too much damage for the tree to recover.

    I’d like to recommend a book to you, “Cicada Song” by Bradford Combs. It’s not really about cicadas, but is set in a small town in the midst of a cicada emergence. I know Bradford, and I think you would really like this book. Come to think of it, your girls might really like his book “The Adventures of Flitter & Plank” in a few years — it’s about a 3rd grade reading level.

  15. Do you happen to know the name of the flower that is next to Silas in the first picture? Thank you!

  16. So amazing! My kids were wishing we lived a bit further east when we heard about this back in April. Check this out: http://www.npr.org/blogs/thetwo-way/2013/04/01/175737170/its-almost-cicada-time-help-radiolab-track-swarmageddon

  17. so cool! we once came across an entire forest of them in new zealand, loud doesn’t even begin to describe the sound they made!

  18. What a great post! Educational, sweet and bringing back memories of my own childhood. I love the sound they make, myself. I also love watching lightening bugs, but, my most favorite sound is the coo of a lonesome dove at dusk!


  19. Oh yes- we are well versed in cicadas here in Texas. I agree with you- I think they are pretty cool!

  20. They do get loud. How nice the chickens are enjoying them

  21. I vividly remember the year we moved to Illinois being invaded by cicadas. I was maybe 10 and recall putting them in a pringles container and adding glue (not nice in retrospect) or trying to drown them in the lake. I also recall their red eyes and how loud they were. Hopefully you have a different, quieter species coming to a backyard near you.

  22. You’ve reminded me of growing up in OK. I can still remember the cicadas song. It was LOUD, lol. Thanks for the memory.


  23. Oh Ginny, I don’t know how I could miss the cicadas but your post did it to me! Their sound became almost music like for us (for one season while we lived there) in the backdrop of life in Virginia.
    Thank you for bringing back those memories. XOXO

  24. That is so cool!! I love hearing cicadas! And every 17 years? That’s awesome!

    Also, when did Silas get so big?! Tell him to stop growing up so fast! 🙂

  25. I think cicadas are some of the most fascinating creatures…they’re beautiful!
    We used to have swarms of them when I lived in the midwest, and I missed them when we moved here to Ontario.
    Now there seem to be a lot more of them here, it’s finally getting warm enough that they make their way up here in the summer. I was happy to find quite a few last summer. My oldest son found a few dead ones and put them in a shadow box 🙂

  26. I can remember hearing the cicadas where I grew up in Wisconsin. It wasn’t every summer but I do remember hearing them…so loud! We had a lot of trees by our house when I was a kid, though.

  27. Oh, the cicadas. We had one of the 13-year years last year (what a phrase) and it wasn’t too bad, but you never know what you’re going to get. I recall one year as a kid when the buzzing nearly drove me out of my mind. We had 30 acres of old growth woods and for weeks and weeks, there was never a moment of silence. I hope that you can continue to enjoy them. Like I said, you never know how bad its going to be until its over!

  28. I remember all of cicadas when I was growing up on Long Island, NY, but I have to say, I don’t remember anyone admiring them, hahaha! Ever have one of those stuck in your hair? Not fun!

  29. oh my! I like seeing your pictures and hearing about it from a far, but I think I’m happy in California with No cicadas. 🙂

  30. I love the sound of cicadas singing. But when our chickens get hold of one the cicada always screams. (Well, it sounds like screaming anyway.) Singing=good. Screaming=bad.

  31. interesting. we get cicadas every year, right before monsoon season. 🙂

  32. In Fredericksburg 17 years ago, I was madly in love with a boy who was madly in love with the cicadas. We sat outside at night in his family’s gazebo in the woods and listen to them singing to each other. He told me all the scientific facts about them, we went on walks to find all the exoskeletons on the trees (and everywhere else!), and we wondered where we would be the next time the cicadas emerged.

    It ultimately didn’t work out between us, but those are some of my fondest memories of the summer before I started college. Now I can’t wait to get back to Virginia to hear them again and introduce the song of the cicadas to my husband and little boy. Thanks for the memory trigger!

  33. There’s been much about it in the papers over the last week or so here n CT – but I think the eastern Connecticut brood died out, so we aren’t expected to see many here, but I’ll take a look at the chart link.

  34. We had an emergence last year. The cicadas do get quite loud…you will know when you hear it! My kids enjoyed finding the exoskeletons and adding them to our nature table.

  35. The really bad 17 year locusts aren’t coming until 2021! This is nothing at all compared to what it will be in 8 more years. Just wait 🙂

  36. Haha…I LOVE your attitude toward the cicadas, Ginny! I think it’s absolutely the right kind of attitude to have 🙂

  37. Nahuatl Vargas says:

    We had those (or similar) here this year too, I foun some dead ones that I saved for my kid.
    I have heard that they came every 19 years, but it seams that here the born more often, maybe they are different generations.

  38. I visited my sister in VA during the last 13 yr emergence. It was so cool, but loud. The other night on our walk, my oldest stopped us to listen for cicadas. Not here in the desert unfortunately

  39. Thanks for the photos of the children enjoying these little creatures! We live in Connecticut and should see them soon. I hear that cicada shell tea is a delicacy; although, I’m not sure I’m brave enough to try it. 😉 Blessings!

  40. That is so neat! We are all a bit bummed that we are missing out on this with our move to the west this winter. In Nova Scotia we were told they are called “heat bugs” because they are loudest when the days are very warm. Indeed their high pitched sound is loud and I can only imagine what it will be like with so many in one place.
    We did find a few while we were there. I recall one being feed to our chickens. They fought over it too!
    My kids love “Life in the Undergrowth.” The very cool part about Cicadas is on youtube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tjLiWy2nT7U (just don’t read the comments 🙂
    Sorry for such a long comment… we are kinda bug geeks around here!

I love to hear from you!