Dear PoPville – What will the 17 year Cicadas Cycle be like in DC?

Photo by PoPville johnmcochran2012

Dear PoPville,

I am hoping for some information and advice from people who have been in DC for a while.

I’m having a wedding party at the end of May and as I’m not originally from the US we have many people coming from afar (NZ, UK) to attend. A couple of days ago we found out that our party coincides with the emergence of the 17 year cicada cycle!

I’m not too worried about the actual day-we’ll make some changes and have fun. But what I was wanting information on – is how bad is it to be in Washington DC during this time? Can people still visit the Mall and other tourist attractions and have a good time or do I need to advise our visitors to avoid Washington. I’ve looked on the net but haven’t found many first-hand stories from the DC area and I would really appreciate some input from the Popville community. Many thanks.

You should be fine! NPR reports:

If you’ve never experience a cicadapocalypse, expect to see an increased number of large, winged creatures in the eastern part of the country. Cicadas can grow up to 1 1/2 inches and have these creepy, red eyes on either side of their heads, but that’s all they’ve got going for them. Though they look scary, cicadas couldn’t hurt a fly (unless they sat on it, maybe). They don’t bite, sting, raid crops or infest homes.

Anyone ever experience one of these cicada cycles?

53 Comment

  • The last 17 year cycle came in 2004. I’m not sure sure why you are worried about May 2013.

    • +1 And while there was a lot of them that year, it was nothing to cancel a trip over. And it was more noticeable in the suburbs and neighborhoods with more tree cover, so not as much on the mall and downtown. You probably haven’t heard a lot of first hand stories because it wasn’t really that big of a deal.

      • Agreed, there weren’t many in DC then because of the lack of trees, but the one that landed on my car dashboard on Sherman Ave DC on my way to work, and then turned around and looked directly at me was enough to almost make me crash my car.

        • you guys haven’t been here long enough. if it’s the cicada takeover i’m thinking of, it’s friggin gross. they are EVERYWHERE. I grew up here. I’m not afraid of bugs, but this looks plagueish…

    • There are different broods on offset 17-year cycles so we get the experience more often than that.

    • Indeed. I lived through the 2004 cicada cycle, and it was weird, but not horrible. If there’s one this year, I’m definitely going to eat cicada at one of the restaurants that serve it!

    • I went to a wedding the summer of 2004. The cicadas weren’t bad in the city, but the wedding was held outside near Sugarloaf Mountain. The groom and bride were twitching and flailing throughout the entire ceremony, knocking the cicadas off. It certainly made for a memorable wedding.

    • saf

      There are multiple broods on various cycles. 2003 was the biggest, brood X. I forget this one’s designation, but it is a significant but smaller 17 year brood.

    • That was Brood X, this is Brood II, last seen in 1996. I remember them. Brood II is more flavorful, but Brood X is crunchier.

  • One need not worry about cicadas this summer. The last cicada cycle was 2005 or 2006, i think, which should make the next one 2022 or so, not this year. On a more general note, the cicadas are a pain in the @#@, but nothing to really spoil a trip. They are everywhere, fly in to you at times, and create a mess ( they have no mouths, cant eat, just procreate and die, leaving lots of dead cicadas on sidewalks.) The worst part is there scream which can give you a jolt if there is one on the ground that has not quiet reached is demise. End of the day, all in all, nothing to worry about in concerns of your wedding get together. Enjoy and congratulations!!!!

    • upon further research, I stand corrected. There will be cicadas this may, however it will not be as bad as 2004, which apparently stands out different in my memory then in others. (I remember the whole area being absolutely covered in deceased cicadas) Either way I stand by the fact that its a small annoyance, and will make a good conversation piece for sure. Here is to hoping for a small brood this time round.

      • I am confused. Are there different non-aligned 17-years cycles? I recall the one in 2004 and felt it was overhyped. I foresaw something biblical, but it was just a surfeit of bugs. Disagreeable was that the locust shells lingered, like ghosts. That was grossest.

  • Although they don’t bite or sting, that doesn’t mean they aren’t gross. I had an outdoor wedding to attend during the cicadapocalypse of 2004, and one flew basically into my ear during the ceremony. Still makes me shudder.

    However, you shouldn’t let the cicadas damper your guests’ fun. They won’t be bad enough to ruin sightseeing; they are just a slight annoyance.

  • I don’t think that the cicadas are due back for a while…found this:

    In the eastern half of the United States, periodical cicadas come up out of the ground every 17 years. They were here in the Washington, DC area in May of 2004 and will not be visiting us again for quite a while. They are large insects, about an inch and a half long, with black bodies, red eyes and delicate wings. There are far too many to count. You see them everywhere–on the sidewalk, on the trees, on the porch, on the street.

    And they aren’t that bad at all. Just a lot of noise.

  • I though we just had a Brood X just a few years ago. I didn’t see to much of it DC particularly close to the hill but the burbs seem to have gotten a bit noisier.

    • Right. The North American genus has broods of 17 or 13 years, though other genuses can have much shorter life spans. The 2004 was not the same brood as we are due this year, which will be the culmination of a 17-year cycle.

  • A little more background. 17 year cicadas come in different broods. The 2004 cicadas were Brood X, and that is the largest brood there is. This year’s cicadas are Brood II, which is not as large but still a sizable population.

    Cicadas are perfectly harmless, they just have a creepy factor to them that’s to be expected from 2 inch fat bugs. In 2004 they were all. over. everything. They would land on you when you were walking, you’d accidentally step on them and they would leave the most disgusting bug guts all over your car’s windshield. That being said, they only visited for about two months and then went away.

    Here’s a little more info on this year’s brood and cicadas in general…

  • There are different broods of cicadas that come up in different years in different areas. Brood X was here in 2004 and i believe is one of the largest broods, but brood II is due this year. Found this handy site

  • I remember going to an Ihop on 355 and thinking, “Oh, that is wierd…they painted the Ihop a dark brown color.” Then when pulled into the parking lot I realized it was not paint, it was just covered in bugs!

  • They are a pain in the a@@ just as others have said. They sometimes wind up on your clothes or in your hair or on public transportation. They don’t fly well at all. The birds engorge themselves in the beginning but eventually seem to give up because there are so many. And they aren’t pleasant to look at when they die. I am not looking forward to the new crop.

  • I recall the 17 year cicada happening in maybe… 1986-87 in DC and it was a lot worse than when it happened in 2004. I distinctly remember sidewalks and streets being slippery with mashed-up cicada bodies to the point where riding a bike was pretty gross. I also remember tons of those brown shells on trees, porches… all over the place. For some reason 2004 was not as bad.

    • I’m totally bug-phobic, and these really weren’t all that bad downtown–and I’ve been here for all the broods since 1985. They are noisy, ugly, and a bit creepy in large swarms, but totally harmless. Areas w/ more trees (Rock Creek Park) are much worse than the city. Have fun!!!!

      • The 2004 batch wasn’t NEARLY as bad as the one before that when they were everywhere. They totally freak me out.

    • I remember they were all over the place (and LOUD) in 1987. There were maybe half as many (but still a lot) in 2004.

    • I was volunteering at the Smithsonian Insect Zoo in ’86 when we had the huge brood (still have the commemorative T-shirt) and most memorable was the deafening sound of millions singing at once (fortunately only during the day) So many more then because much grass and soil was still undisturbed. Ensuing years of development removed soil (along with pupae) so that numbers will not be as before.

    • Word. I was in high school then, and I all I recall was driving on the Beltway (one could do that then) and just the constant sound of them popping off the windshield.

  • Actually, the OP is right, they will be here this year. It’s brood II which last surfaced in 1996.

  • While we had them here around 2006, there appear to be different broods of varying numbers in different years. I find cicada shells in my backyard every year — I’m assuming they are from different broods. I was a landscaper in Ohio one spring during a cicada surge. You absolutely could not have had an outdoor wedding in some of the heavily wooded neighborhoods I saw. It was straight out of the Passover story. But there just weren’t that many in DC in 2006 (I believe due to the relative lack of trees); not so many that your wedding would be impacted.

  • Brood X is what most people are referring to which affected the DC area in 2004. Brood II is what the OP must be referring to. It emerges in 2013. That said, the closest it comes to the DC area is Prince William County and points south through central VA and extreme southern Maryland. Definitely nowhere near the Mall.

  • I loved them and I miss them! (Though maybe because there weren’t that many in DC proper in 2004.) They are amazing and make an incredible noise. If they are here for your wedding, it will make it memorable. But you’ll only be able to celebrate your anniversary every 17 years.

    • I love them too! Their noise is so cool! But I grew up with my Dad obsessing over this plastic cicada toy that hey loved to press as it lit up and made the sound.

  • my recollection form 2004 is that cicadas remain underground during cycles. in areas where the ground has been ripped up, that will have killed most of them. i’d be surprised to see more than 20 on the mall considering the recent work there.

  • I usually find PoP comments to represent a smarter than average bunch, so I’m so surprised to see people saying that cicadas only come every 17 years and citing bad internet research. Yes, they emerge on a 17 year cycle, but they are LOTS of different kinds. Think about people: we move out of our parents’ homes at age 18, but this happens EVERY August as new groups of 18 year olds head to college.

    Yes, there will be lots of cicadas this summer, as this years’ crop is a big one. I am so grossed out.

  • Gross?? The Brood X cicadas are one of nature’s most amazing phenomena, and we are very lucky to be smack in the middle of it. Anything that lives underground like a monk for some large prime number of years and then parties like a rock star for a few weeks is a pretty special critter. I love our cicadas.

  • This year’s cicadas (Brood II) is not supposed to be as bad as in 2004 (Brood X). My friend got married during cicada season in 2004 in Baltimore and there were dead cicada bodies all over the sidewalks and I recall one landed either on my bridesmaid’s dress or another girl’s dress and a guy in the elevator pointed it out and quickly got it off and squished it. They’re harmless – just gross.

  • Another thing to note is that although they DO fly, they tend to do it very slow and clumsily. I recall when brood X hit in 2004, I was a bit unnerved about swarms of buzzing, flying things constantly in the air, but it’s not exactly like that. Like I said, they are very slow and clumsy flyers. I recall sitting at a stop light one time and seeing one flying towards my open driver side window. I casually rolled it up and the thing slowly ran into the window. It’s not really a ferocious buzzing around is the point I’m trying to make. Also, they tend to spend a lot of time not flying. Two things people don’t mention are the really interesting noise that is an omnipresent part of life when they’re out – sort’ve like the sound of the phasers on the old Star Trek, and ALWAYS in the background, day and night. The other thing is that when they basically die all at once, it stinks for a week or so.

  • “gross”? As far as bugs go, they’re almost cute. I mean, just click through to the NPR link and look at that face 🙂 They’ve always been a harbinger of summer to me so I love hearing the first cicada as much as I love seeing the first firefly.

  • My brother worked as a roofer in the summer of 1987. He told me that some of the asian guys he worked with would eat them. So, they’re pretty harmless, AND nutritious!

    • There is actually a french chef who prepared cicada pan sauteed sans legs and wings in butter. i would live to try but I’m sure i don’t have the nerves to capture and freeze a bunch to make that happen. But eating cicada is not too far out the box.

  • it’s really gross. the shells are all over the place and it’s creepy. they totally freaked me out when i was a kid

  • Your dogs will be tempted to eat them but don’t let them! Cicadas are flying protein bars and your pooch will get fat if you let them eat too many.

  • I remember the 2004 cycle being worse in the burbs than in the city. I was at a party in Falls Church and you could literally hear them crawling on the grass. Ugh.

  • They’re noisy. But it is no cicadapocalypse. That is just people trying to create twitter hashtags.

  • I’m hearing that this brood isn’t supposed to amount to much, but I was living in WV back in 1999 when Brood V emerged, and it was insane! At times, the cicadas were loud enough to hurt your ears, and I removed hundreds of them from my porch each day with a snow shovel. They’re completely harmless though, and kind of interesting to observe.

  • The first time I saw these gigantic bugs was in ’87. I was in junior high and the basketball courts and makeshift swimming pool was overflowing with cicadas. I was horrified. I remember leaving out different doors of the schools because boys would pick them up and throw them at folks. Fast forward 17 years to 2004 to me sitting on the 36 going down Wisconsin ave. There’s a guy sitting two seats ahead of me with the biggest cicada sitting on his shoulder and NO ONE is saying anything. Too petrified to alarm him on a moving bus I guess. Ah memories.

  • I remember the cicadas in 1987 very clearly (and of course, in 2004), but don’t remember much about the brood in 1996–so here’s hoping it won’t be that bad…

  • Maybe we can train the cicadas to eat all of the snakehead fish. A natural solution to control an invasive species. Come on science, make this happen!

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