Ann Arbor, MI

After a Once in a Century Pandemic, Ann Arbor Braces for a Once Every 17-Year Great Cicada Invasion

Joseph Serwach

For the first time since 2004: Millions of Brood X Cicadas unleashed on Ann Arbor
The cicada invasion is starting in Ann Arbor, heating up later in June.Image by Sringsmuth from Pixabay.

ANN ARBOR, Mich. — While Egypt once weathered 10 plagues and locusts, Ann Arbor is going from a historic pandemic to swarms of millions of noisy Brood X Cicadas.

The home of the University of Michigan, tech companies, and progressive causes is bracing for a once-every-17-year cicada invasion. 

Back in 1902, farmers observed that the Brood X Cicadas have a “W” on each wing which they deemed a warning sign of war to come (the following 1919 cicada appearance came soon after World War I, the Great War). 

Or, maybe the “W” is an upside-down University of Michigan “block M,” the heart of the Michigan brand? They’re expected to peak in June and stay anywhere from two to six weeks before dying off until 2038. 

Warmer and drier weather could shorten their stay.

The loudest bug in the world is already appearing just outside Ann Arbor

Dubbed “the loudest bug in the world,” the hashtag #cicadas began trending on social media. The Detroit Free Press reports cicadas have already been found in several portions of Washtenaw County encircling Ann Arbor, including:

  • Whitmore Lake Preserve, a 235-acre undeveloped area near Seven Mile Road and Nollar Road in Northfield Township.
  • Kosch-Headwaters Preserve, a 160-acre nature preserve near Prospect Road and Ford Road in Superior Township.
  • Scio Woods Preserve, a 91-acre nature site near Scio Church Road in Scio Township.

The insects are also considered to be great fishing “bait.” CNN argues the odd bugs offer pets a “moveable feast of irresistible proportions.” claims humans should take, cook and eat the noisy once every 17-year invaders. But The Atlantic says they taste pretty awful, calling them “nature’s gushers,” saying if you insist on eating them, use an air fryer.

“What’s an inch and a half long, sucks on tree juice, and as loud as a chainsaw?” Michigan’s Department of Natural Resources asks. “Michigan is home to another type of cicada that’s getting ready to put on a show.”

“Unlike dog day cicadas where adults emerge from the ground every year, the periodical cicadas stay underground for over a decade and then emerge as adults in one giant frenzy every 17 years before the young they leave behind disappear for the next 17 years,” DNR officials explained. 

Historically, the invaders have focused on Washtenaw, Genesee, Livingston, Oakland, Lenawee, St. Joseph, and Branch counties. But this year, the biggest wave is expected in Washtenaw, home of Ann Arbor.

“It feels like when a rain just starts, and you get a small drop or two and say, ‘Is it starting to rain?’” Paula Shrewsbury, an entomology professor, told The Washington Post

However, she warned that rain could actually be “harmless” fluids from the cicadas. 

Most of Michigan will miss out on the great Brood X invasion of 2021. The one- to two-inch bugs spring up to sing (they are noisy), mate, and die. They mainly dominate “the Bug Belt” immediately south of Michigan, from Washington, D.C, through Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois.

Washtenaw and other Michigan counties close to Ohio and Indiana are most likely to see the strange insects. Here is a 2013 map from the U.S. Forest Service showing Michigan counties most prone to invasion. 

The creatures lay eggs near trees. When the eggs hatch, young cicadas fall to the ground, burrowing into the soil, feeding off tree sap until their 2038 return. Female cicadas carve niches into trees, potentially shortening the lifespans of some trees.

Michigan State University entomologist Gary Parsons monitors the invasion, expecting ground zero to be in and around Ann Arbor. Potential (but less likely) targets for the invaders include the Coldwater and Quincy areas.

Urbanization across Michigan has cut down the Michigan cicada population, he said. Washtenaw has prided itself on zoning laws encouraging a large “green belt” around Ann Arbor, making it more inviting to cicadas. 

Swarms have already been reported at the University of Michigan’s Matthaei Botanical Gardens and Nichols Arboretum.

“They aren’t out in large numbers yet. Cold weather has slowed down the emerging process,” the University of Michigan’s Tom Odell told Bridge Michigan. “I would say within the next week, the numbers will get pretty high, and they’ll be more vocal, and we’ll be hearing them more readily in the next week.”

Odell warned, “Where their numbers are concentrated, they’ll be very loud, and in the highest concentration if you are able to enter any area, especially a woodland where they come out in huge numbers, you can hardly hear yourself speak when they’re that loud.”
The big - super noisy - bugs are coming to Ann Arbor.Image by Yukie Chen from Pixabay.

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