Millions of 17-year cicadas set to emerge in the South

Parts of the South are about to get noisy. Not from Memorial Day weekend parties or concerts or parades — but millions and millions of amorous insects.

Every 17 years, cicadas emerge from the ground in Southwest Virginia, parts of North Carolina, and West Virginia. The cluster of cacophonous cicadas in this area of the American South is known as brood IX.

Soon, scientists from Virginia Tech say, the little creatures will crawl towards the sky, with as many as 1.5 million per acre. The number of insects traditionally start peaking in early June, according to Virginia Tech and Virginia State University, and most will be gone by July.

“Communities and farms with large numbers of cicadas emerging at once may have a substantial noise issue,” Eric Day, an entomologist in Virginia Tech’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences said in statement. “Hopefully, any annoyance at the disturbance is tempered by just how infrequent — and amazing — this event is.”

That noise, the college says, is “the mating call of the males who are attempting to attract females.” But the love call is also a warning sign for tree growers, as cicadas pose danger to orchards, and juvenile trees and vines.

It's not just your eardrums that could be at risk — crops could also be threatened. The bugs implant their eggs into branches or vines, causing them to spilt and wither. If too many cicadas lay eggs in a small tree, it can kill the plant, Virginia Tech scientists say.

“Cicadas can occur in overwhelming numbers and growers in predicted areas of activity should be watchful” Doug Pfeiffer, a professor at Virginia Tech’s Department of Entomology said in a statement.

Much remains unknown about the creature, like why the periodical cicadas emerge on 13 or 17 year cycles. Theories suggest it could be as a way to avoid predators.

Pfeiffer thinks those unaffected should enjoy marveling at the “fascinating” and puzzling bugs.

“If you don’t have fruit trees or grapevines to protect, you can enjoy this phenomenon while it lasts.”