What’s All the Buzz About? Cicadas Back in the South After 13 Years

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Getty Images / Scott Olson

A cicada sits on a twig in a forest preserve

Fall’s defined by crunching leaves, but the crackle of cicada shells indicates that spring has sprung. Though the harmless yet ominous-looking bugs appear in small numbers annually, swarms of their periodical counterparts only grace our presence once every 13 or 17 years, depending on the species. Brood XIX Cicadas, which have a 13-year cycle, emerged in Tennessee this week and are expected elsewhere in the South and Midwest.

(GRAPHIC: See the life cycle of a 17-year cicada)

After living underground for over a decade ,they’ll resurface (usually in early May), crawl out of their shells and start swarming. A few days later the males will announce their arrival in style with a distinctive high-pitched mating call. The females will leave their mark on the smaller trees where they lay their eggs, sometimes causing the plants to damage or die.

Still, they’re completely benign to humans and though they can be a nuisance, these critters will undoubtedly cause much of a buzz throughout the states they infest.

(LIST: See the top 10 most annoying sounds)