‘An alien mothership’: Brood XIX cicadas are taking over middle Georgia

A Brood XIX periodical cicada as seen in Macon, Georgia.
A Brood XIX periodical cicada as seen in Macon, Georgia.
Grant Blankenship/GPB

For the first time in over 200 years, certain parts of the country are experiencing a rare emergence of two periodical cicadas — those big, droning insects that mostly live underground until they finally, very audibly, do not.

In this audio postcard from Macon, community members discuss their delight, and sometimes frustration, about two weeks into the emergence of the so-called “Great Southern Brood,” or Brood XIX.

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The last time Brood XIX emerged in Georgia was in 2011. That’s because they’re life cycle is 13 years long, compared to the other group of periodical cicadas whose life cycle is 17 years long.

Brood XIX is actually considered one of the largest clusters.

“There are trillions of them emerging,” said Entomologist from the University of North Georgia, Evan Lampert. “A single county will have millions of them, if not billions.”

Though three species of periodical cicadas exist in Georgia, they are overall identified by their bright red eyes and slightly smaller build, compared the bulkier species of annual cicadas.

And their sound is different, too.

“It’s a very high pitch, almost like, you know, a 1980s UFO,” said Lampert.

The fully grown cicadas emerge from tiny holes in the ground when they’re ready to mate, shedding their exoskeleton. Soon after, only the male cicadas start to sing — their tactic to attract a mate.

“And it just doesn’t stop during the day for, like, a month straight,” said Lampert.

Cicadas only live for a few weeks once they emerge.

Ongoing research

Lampert, whose been collecting cicada exoskeletons and mapping the emergence around Georgia, says researchers are trying to understand if changes in the environment — like warming temperatures or habitat loss — affect when cicadas emerge.

There’s also increased observation of stragglers, cicadas that emerge too early. Researchers aren’t sure why yet but do know it puts cicadas at risk of increased predation and decreases their ability to find a mate.

“They can either lead to the evolution of new broods or they can just be wiped out,” said Lampert.

Lampert and others at the University of North Georgia and the University of Georgia are encouraging people to report cicada sightings.




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