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NPR News

'Brood 19' Cicadas Poised To Swarm The South

LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:

These bugs aren't necessarily wicked, but they could wake the dead.

(Soundbite of cicadas buzzing)

WERTHEIMER: Most of the time, cicadas sound like summer evenings, but some of you may already be hearing what's known as Brood 19 periodical cicadas. They've spent the past 13 years developing underground and have been spotted - or heard - in states including Georgia, South Carolina, and Oklahoma. By mid-May, they're expected to emerge big time.

Gene Kritsky, editor-in-chief of American Entomologist and biology professor at Cincinnati's College of Mount St. Joseph, has written two books on cicadas. He's expecting billions this year.

Professor GENE KRITSKY (Biology, College of Mount St. Joseph, Editor-in-Chief, American Entomologist): The periodical cicada's survival strategy is to come out in incredibly large numbers, so many so that the predators can eat all the cicadas they want and there are still millions left to reproduce.

WERTHEIMER: He says when the soil hits 64 degrees we'll see cicadas.

Mr. KRITSKY: They'll crawl out of the ground and crawl up a tree trunk, the side of a building, even a tombstone - I've seen this happen in cemeteries.

WERTHEIMER: That familiar buzz is the male's courtship song. After mating, the female lays her eggs in tree branches. About two months later, they hatch, the nymphs fall to the ground, burrow in, and 13 years later we meet the next generation. And while the cicadas can harm young trees, Kritsky says they can also benefit the environment.

Mr. KRITSKY: When they die, their carcasses essentially decay and provide a nice nutrient injection back into the soil for the trees.

WERTHEIMER: Or there's another way for them to go.

Mr. KRITSKY: You can eat them. They taste to me like cold canned asparagus, very green. Because they're feeding on plants, they have a very green flavor.

WERTHEIMER: Periodical cicadas are not to be confused with annual cicadas - the ones that come out each summer. We can look forward to their arrival around the time the periodical cicadas die in July. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.