- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 19, 2004

They’re finally here.

The noisy, red-eyed cicadas, known as Brood X, have begun to emerge from underground dens across the Washington area, at a rate of a million an acre in some areas.

Although the arrival of the flying insects is not supposed to peak until next week, they have already created a buzz among residents throughout the region. The six-legged insects are here for about the next six weeks.

“Last night, I opened my back door to let the dog out and suddenly about 50 cicada nymphs were in my living room, marching in like a little army,” said Gaye Williams, an entomologist with the Maryland Department of Agriculture.

Miss Williams said her neighborhood in Bowie has many large sycamore trees, where the cicadas have become a fixture since they first appeared on her block last weekend. As she tried to get them out on her patio, Miss Williams noticed dozens more crawling at the foot of her patio door.

“It was as if you took an ice cream bucket full of nymphs and dumped them there,” she said, adding that her dog, Chelsy, has been eating the harmless bugs like M&Ms.;

The adult cicada, which is about 1 inches long, lives underground for 17 years before it digs its way out of the damp and dark soil toward the sunlight. During its brief stay above ground, it climbs a tree, sheds its skin, mates, lays eggs (if it’s a female) and dies. They also fill the air with high-pitched mating screams.

A female lays eggs in trees. Once the eggs hatch, the tiny nymphs fall to the ground, where they burrow down to the roots for the next 17 years. The next time the nymphs will see the sun is 2021. The last time Washington area residents saw these creatures was in 1987.

There are many species of cicadas — some appearing annually, others every 13 years — but the 17-year cicada, or Brood X as they are known, are the most plentiful and the largest.

Sightings of the insects have been spotty this year, however.

Some neighborhoods such as Montgomery Village in Montgomery County that had recent construction might not see swarms of the bugs, compared with the older communities in Vienna and Falls Church, where the buzzing has become so loud that neighbors are moving their conversations indoors.

One Web site, www.cicadas.info, is trying to compile statistics based on reported cicada sightings.

“We received many e-mails …from individuals in the Washington, D.C., area reporting small amounts … of periodical cicada adults emerging from their yard,” a message on the site reads. “These adults will probably be heard singing in about 5 days. Remember, this is just the beginning! … It’s going to get pretty loud, so hang on.”

The bugs begin to emerge when ground temperatures reach about 64 degrees. So while people in some parts of Virginia began seeing the cicadas several days ago, folks in Frederick, Md., have yet to see them in their full glory.

“The recent rain may have slowed them a little,” Miss Williams said.

The University of Maryland’s Home and Garden Information Center has been fielding calls from residents asking questions about cicadas. Phone consultant Ellen Nibali has been keeping a log of the most humorous cases she’s heard.

“Our favorite came from a woman who said she had stocked up on bottled water, food, flashlights, batteries and masking tape,” Miss Nibali said, adding that the Baltimore-area woman planned to stay put in her home until the insects die. “She wanted to know if she needed any other supplies.”

Another call came from a woman in Wheaton who wanted to know if she needed to tear up her newly paved driveway to allow the nymphs to crawl out of their dens.

Cicadas do not bite or sting and they do very little damage to mature trees. Some residents have placed netting around small trees, which could be damaged when the females lay their eggs in the trees’ new growth.

Miss Nibali said she recently told a caller that the cicadas will not bother vegetable plants. She said she was surprised by the caller’s response to her statement.

“Oh, good then,” Miss Nibali recalled the caller saying. “I can also take the netting off my artificial plants on the balcony, then.”

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