By John McFerrin
Brood X of the seventeen year cicadas will be emerging in the eastern panhandle of West Virginia in late May.
This is happening only in the eastern panhandle and not all of West Virginia because there are different broods of cicadas that are in different parts of the Eastern United States. In 2016 most of West Virginia had the spectacle/excitement/snacking opportunity of Brood V. Now it is eastern panhandle’s turn, as well as the turn of much of Maryland, most of Indiana, and big chunks of Pennsylvania and Ohio. Those areas have Brood X.
The Broods are designated with Roman numerals. It feels appropriate that such a dramatic event as a seventeen year emergence would be designated X. Unfortunately, this does not indicate anything spooky or ominous. It is just the way the Romans wrote numbers.
The huge numbers are a species survival strategy. Individually, they have nothing that would help them survive. They are slow; they don’t bite or sting; they have no prickles, no hard shell. They don’t have coloring that would help them hide or blend in. They are, as it were, sitting ducks for any predator that comes along.
The only thing they have is numbers. Because they emerge all at once, they overwhelm their predators. There are so many of them that even the most voracious of predators could not eat them all. Even after predators eat their fill, there will still be plenty left to mate (the point of all the noise), lay eggs, etc. This strategy only works if they all emerge at the same time.
In the Eastern panhandle, etc. at least, they will be emerging soon. It’s dramatic and even a little ominous to have billions of insects appear all at once. But they are harmless and even edible if that’s your taste (They are both low carb and gluten free. Personal experience: they don’t have much taste. They will never replace gingerbread, Fudgesicles, or anything else that makes life worth living but they are not terrible. The internet is full of recipes). Time to relax and enjoy the show.