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Historic numbers of cicadas expected in June – ‘enjoy it’ and ‘protect your ears’

17-Year Periodical Cicada.
Jay Sturner CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons
17-Year Periodical Cicada.

This June the region will experience a historic cicada emergence, which only happens every 221 years.

There will be millions more cicadas than in an average year – and you’ll hear them locally.

“In our area it’s going to be tremendously more than normal. It’ll be several magnitudes greater than we’ve experienced,” said Richard Musser, chair of biological sciences at Western Illinois University.

Musser said there are more than 3,000 species of cicadas, and they fall into two main categories – annual and periodical.

Annual cicadas emerge ever year, so are seen and heard often. Periodical cicadas emerge either every 13 years or every 17 years, depending on the species.

Musser said emerging in large groups can overwhelm predators, giving the cicadas a better chance to mate.

This year, both a 13-year brood and 17-year brood will emerge at the same time in Illinois and surrounding states. These broods were hatched in 2007 and 2011 respectively, and have spent over a decade as larvae underground.

There will be a million of them in an acre, and they make a lot of noise. If that noise happens to be right next to your ear, it can even cause deafness.

This noise is the male cicadas singing for the females with hopes to mate. The intensity will last about a month, because after they reproduce, they start dying off.

Though the cicadas will be loud and abundant, Musser said there’s nothing to worry about. They’re not poisonous, and will do no harm to pets or farm animals that may eat them.

“There’s not much you can do about it other than maybe put some earplugs in, I would suggest if you’re really going to be out next to them,” he said.

Cicadas can harm young trees, so Musser recommends putting nets on vulnerable trees during June to protect them. Despite this, he doesn’t recommend insecticides, as they won’t make much of a difference and will harm other insects as well.

He encourages people to enjoy this event, as it is a once in a lifetime experience. Though the children of these broods will emerge again in 2037 and 2041 respectively, they won’t emerge together again until 2236.

“I would say enjoy it as best as possible, and then protect your ears,” he said.

Tri States Public Radio produced this story.  TSPR relies on financial support from our readers and listeners in order to provide coverage of the issues that matter to west central Illinois, southeast Iowa, and northeast Missouri. As someone who values the content created by TSPR's news department please consider making a financial contribution.

Eleanor Lindenmayer is a journalism major at Knox College.