17-year cicada

The red-eyed bug known as the 17-year cicada.

ROGERSVILLE — If the ongoing COVID-19 virus hasn’t been enough to thoroughly upset life as we know it, get ready for the invasion.

Yeah ... the invasion.

They’re coming.

Possibly in some areas, a year early.

As many as 1.5 million of them per acre, when all of the troops are in place.

And if not all at once this year, next spring for certain.

But don’t fret, while they don’t bite, sting, harm plants, or attack humans or pets, they do cause an absolute mess outside, especially in wooded areas or around trees in a yard, where their discarded “skins” (exoskeletons) can be found hanging from the trunks, and later where their dead corpses can sometimes litter the ground to a depth of several inches.

If you are a “light sleeper”, their raucous “singing” (mating calls) can be so loud, in some places, the racket literally keeps folks awake at night. Some, who have experienced previous “cicada invasions” have described the noise as being akin to the sci-fi-like sound of a UFO landing in their front yard.

And there isn’t anything anyone can do to stop it.

The return of the 17-year cicadas — or “locusts” as some call them — isn’t supposed to happen in this part of northeast Tennessee until 2021, according to their schedule, but the Review and the Eagle have been hearing reports from neighboring areas that the creepy-looking, red-eyed boogers are starting to emerge from their near-two decade subterranean sojourn in portions of southwest Virginia and western North Carolina, and that it is possible that some are getting an early “wake-up call” and are showing up in remote areas of Hawkins, Hancock, Sullivan and other counties in our region.

Their noisy ritual is a mating routine, as their biological clocks call them from their 17-year hiatus deep in the soil, where they feed on roots before coming out to molt (shed their old exoskeletons), mate, lay their eggs for a new generation, and then die.

After eggs are deposited, the offspring hatch about 10 weeks later and immediately burrow into the ground where, they too, will not see the light of day for 17 years before crawling forth in 2037/38 to recreate the cycle of life and death all over again.

The insects typically appear —in an “emergence year” — in April and their noisy chirping continues unabated through mid-June, or a bit later in some places.

The noisy, messy bugs aren’t poisonous to pets, like cats and dogs, who apparently like the taste of the crunchy insects, but according to some veterinarians, even though the cicadas aren’t toxic, their wings and harder body parts can sometimes get stuck in the throats of pets causing them to gag or vomit.

And, as weird as it may sound, some humans have even found ways to incorporate the crazy-looking creatures into snacks!

According to entomologists, there is also a 13-year breed of cicada that makes an appearance in NE Tennessee as well.

So, with that said, if they do appear this year in limited numbers, be grateful.

Next spring may not be so peaceful!

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