Arts & Entertainment, Special Feature

Spring of 2021 is the Big One

Spring of 2021 is the Big One

Courtesy WLWT Channel 5

Brood X (aka The Great Eastern Brood), a group of periodical cicadas that emerge every 17 years, will tunnel out of their long dormancy and take over the area.

This is the same buzzing and massive brood that became the soundtrack of the summer of 2004, their cacophonous mating song loud enough to drown out a passing jet plane.

We’re talking billions of cicadas across 15 states – In addition to Virginia, Maryland and DC, Brood X will also emerge in Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana, Delaware, Georgia, Illinois, Michigan, North Carolina, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Tennessee and West Virginia.

That includes the major metropolitan areas of New York, Washington, Baltimore, Philadelphia, Indianapolis, Louisville, Lexington, Nashville, Cincinnati, Columbus, Dayton and others.

There have been several questions about the cicadas. Here, we will answer some of your most frequently-asked questions.


Let’s start from the beginning.

In 2004 — a year when Tobey Maguire was still the reining Spider Man — the red-eyed Brood X cicadas last emerged, leaving behind billions of baby bugs.

These baby bugs, heirs to the infamous 2021 Brood X, burrowed underground for 17 years, sucking moisture from the tree roots.

Now, after 17 years, it’s their turn to shine. Now adults, they’re ready to come out of their slumber.

Periodical cicadas, as they’re known, spend most of their lives underground. In the spring of their 13th or 17th year (in this case 17th), they will emerge synchronously en masse.

Amorous males attract mates by rapidly vibrating drum-like tymbals on the sides of their abdomen to produce sound. They’ll shed their exoskeletons, attach themselves to branches, mate and lay eggs before dying off in about six weeks.

The hatched nymphs then will drop off the trees and burrow underground to live for another 17 years, and the cycle repeats.

It’s a natural cycle that cicadas have followed for thousands of years.


An exact date is hard to pinpoint, but expect them to begin to arrive in early to mid-May.

A warm rain will trigger their emergence, experts said, and they’ll slowly begin to overtake the area in the days after.

“The first cicada sign that we will see will be the development of little chimneys – mud extensions of their tubes after very heavy rain,” said Gene Kritsky, the Mount St. Joseph University Dean of Behavioral and Natural Sciences. Kristsky is one of the world’s leading experts in cicadas.

Add in warming temperatures and then, “we have a nice soaking rain, then they will really pop,” Kritsky said.

They don’t all appear at once. It takes about two weeks for all of them to dig out from under the ground as they crawl from their long dormancy to sing, mate, reproduce and lay eggs.


Look for cicadas to peak in late May and June.

Their lifespan is four to six weeks above ground, and they’ll begin to die off in late June and into July.  There may be a few stragglers that linger far into the summer.

Remember, they don’t all emerge at once — so we’re not talking four weeks and done. If the weather is consistently warm and dry, that could mean cicadas will finish mating sooner than later, Kritsky says.

They’ll be mostly gone by mid-July.


We’re talking billions. With a “B.”

“This is the big one, a generational event,” Kritsky said. “For people who have been around awhile, they will remember what it was like 17 years ago or even farther back to when they were kids and they’ll know what to expect,” he added. “For those who weren’t alive 17 years ago or who were too young at the time and can’t remember, they are in for quite an experience.”

At their peak, you can expect to see cicadas seemingly everywhere — on trees and on the façade of your home.


No. They’re relatively harmless to living things. Cicadas are mainly a nuisance, flying into windshields and littering homes with tiny carcasses.

They could damage young trees, scientists warn, but they don’t bite or sting and are not poisonous.


If you’re not a fan of creepy crawly things, it might be a long and loud six weeks.

They’re about an inch and a half long, and will – occasionally – land on humans if they’re outside.

They may seem like a nuisance to many, but to others like Kristsky, the emergence is heaven on earth. The 17-year cicadas are one of the reasons he moved to Cincinnati in the ’80s.”It’s like having David Attenborough in your backyard. With this wonderful show, you get to watch the development of the adult transformation,” he said.


Kritsky helped developed a way for anyone to help scientists track and map Brood X – and they need your help.

He helped develop the Cicada Safari app.

It allows users to search, photograph, video and help map the cicadas, which will contribute to vital scientific research by determining the distribution of the brood of the emerging cicadas. Such information will enable scientists to assess the status of Brood X cicadas.

To join Cicada Safari and help map the 2021 emergence, download the free app from the Apple app store or Google Play. When a cicada is spotted, users can use the app to photograph or video the insects and then submit the images for inclusion the cicada map.

“We developed this app because so many people are fascinated by cicadas,” Kritsky said. “This is true citizen science. People can use their phones with our app to track, photograph and help us map the cicadas to verify where they are emerging. An issue with citizen science projects is the difficulty to verify new observations. The photographs submitted to our map are like voucher specimens permitting us to verify the observations making the maps more useful for future research.”

Dr. Kritsky and the Mount have also launched the website, which offers a virtual trove of cicada facts, history, facts, maps, activities and more.

Publishers Note: In cooperation with the staff at WLWT Channel 5 in Cincinnati, OH, the OTC was fortunate enough to get permission to print this piece. If you are in the Cincinnati area, please be sure to tune in to WLWT or log on to

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