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Cicada invasion: Trillions of loud flying insects are swarming the United States for the first time in 221 years

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Billions, if not trillions, of two groups of noisy flying insects are expected to emerge from underground across 17 U.S. states in April, a rare natural phenomenon not seen since 1803.

The insects, called cicadas, will sprout from the ground and engage in a frantic mating frenzy for several weeks before they all eventually die near trees.

But only then do they lay their eggs on the forest floor and the life cycle begins again.

Thomas Jefferson and cicada carcasses.

It will be the first time in 221 years that two species of cicadas – broods XIX and XIII – have emerged from the ground at the same time, back when Thomas Jefferson was president, and it is not expected to happen again until 2244. (VCG Wilson/Corbis via Getty Images, Associated Press)

Rare cicada broods will appear soon: when to expect them and what that means for you

It will be the first time in 221 years that two species of cicadas – broods XIX and XIII – have emerged from the ground at the same time, back when Thomas Jefferson was president, and it is not expected to happen again until 2244.

The beetles, one to two inches long, have powerful bodies, prominent, faceted red eyes, and membranous wings with a three-inch wingspan.

But don’t be alarmed, cicadas are not harmful to people, pets, home gardens or crops, says the Environmental Protection Agency. In fact, they are a valuable source of food for birds and mammals. Cicadas can aerate lawns and improve soil water filtration while adding nutrients to the soil as it decomposes.

Most species of cicadas emerge every year, but in the United States there are two periodic broods of cicadas that remain underground for either 13 or 17 years.

“The simultaneous emergence of two broods of different cycles is rare because both cycles are prime,” John Cooley, a cicada expert at UConn, told LiveScience.

“Each 13- and 17-year-old brood only hatches simultaneously every 13 x 17 = 221 years.”

According to entomologist Floyd Shockley of the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History in Washington, Brood XIII cicadas appear on a 17-year cycle and are primarily found in northern Illinois, eastern Iowa, southern Wisconsin and some counties in the far northwest limited by Indiana.

Brood a total of 15 states, according to Shockley. The two broods together span parts of 17 states.

Periodic cicada map

An active periodic map showing where cicadas appear. (USDA Forest)

RARE “SIMULTUM EXPLOSION” OF CICADAS EXPECTED FOR FIRST TIME IN 221 YEARS

These two broods overlap only in a small area in central Illinois and sometimes in Indiana. They are potentially close enough to each other to allow some interbreeding between broods.

Female cicadas make slits in small branches and typically lay 20 to 30 eggs in each slit. A female can lay 400 to 600 eggs in her lifetime. The eggs hatch from late July to early August. Then the cicadas fall to the ground and immediately burrow into the soil. They can smell bad if they die together in large numbers.

They can’t lay eggs in your skin, Cooley told MassLive.

“This summer, some will get the chance to witness a phenomenon that is rarer — and likely louder — than Halley’s Comet,” Cooley said.

Brood xix cicada

A Brood XIII cicada waits for its wings and new exoskeleton to dry and harden after climbing a tree and molting. ((E. Jason Wambsgans/Chicago Tribune/Tribune News Service via Getty Images)

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“It’s impossible to miss that periodical cicadas are out there because there are millions and millions of them, and they’re loud, charismatic, active insects that are just everywhere,” Cooley said.

However, cicadas can be dangerous to young trees because they lay their eggs in small branches, which can harm the tree, according to the EPA. The agency recommends covering maturing seedlings with mesh or nets to keep the insects away.

Reuters and the Associated Press contributed to this report.

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