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Millions of cicadas are about to swarm the Eastern US

Brood IX is here

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In the next few weeks, millions of insects will emerge from the ground after a 17-year nap.

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Locals in southwestern Virginia, West Virginia, and North Carolina may notice the shedded skins of juvenile bugs left behind on branches and bushes.

These are cicadas, an insect in the order Hemiptera, or “true bug.”

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Although some cicadas serenade the summer every year, others have a unique life cycle, appearing after 17 years (or for some groups, 13 years) of residing underground.

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This summer, scientists are preparing for the emergence of Brood IX, which arose last in 2003.

Once they climb out of the ground as juvenile nymphs, the bugs shed their nymph skin and set out as adults, ready to mate.

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Blogs like entomologist John Cooley’s Magicicada maps and tracks brood emergence.

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“Cicadas are really good bioindicators of forest and ecosystem health,” Cooley tells Inverse. “When everything is working as it should be, they come out on time.”

Cicadas shouldn’t be mistaken for another insect that emerges from the ground periodically — locusts.

When locusts emerge, they swarm violently and eat everything in their sight. In a single day, a locust swarm can travel 120 miles and eat enough food for 35,000 people.

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Cicadas, on the other hand, are able to subsist off the surrounding plants without damaging them, Cooley says.

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After about six weeks, the insects die. By late July, Brood IX should be petering out.

Read more about cicadas, their periodic life cycles, and Brood IX here.

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