Pikesville resident Elizabeth Burgess, 26, was expecting a relaxed Saturday at home last weekend when her plans were thwarted by unwelcome guests in her living room: a half-dozen Brood X cicadas.
Her windows were closed and she was careful to close her front door quickly, but the beady-eyed insects got creative, wiggling their way in through her fireplace, which has since been sealed off with a large trash bag and duct tape.
“I’m actually fine with cicadas. Every creature has its place. But that place is not my living room,” Burgess said.
For Burgess and many Maryland residents, the emergence of the Brood X cicadas from their 17 years underground was the 2021 gift few asked for.
The insects, which spent the last decade and a half or so feasting on tree roots, rose to prominence beginning in May, later than their last visit in 2004 thanks to cool temperatures. But after weeks of cicadas thrumming in the trees, hosting choir practice in parks and splattered on windshields, one question remains: When will they go away?
The end is near, according to Mike Raupp, entomology professor at the University of Maryland.
“By the Fourth of July, the cicadas will be gone,” Raupp said.
Raupp, who has been tracking cicada data, said the Brood X population performed exactly as expected, with larger populations in areas with more green space and, despite the sometimes alarming presence of the cicada hordes for the average East Coast resident, no surprises with regards to the volume and behavior of the insects.
Cicada emergence hit its peak in late May, according to Raupp, when the highest number of adolescent cicadas, known as nymphs, crawled out from their underground homes and attached themselves to trees and surfaces throughout the region, awaiting their transformation into the loud, flying insects that Marylanders are now quite familiar with.
“Everybody is up and out and now the adults are in the treetops,” Raupp said.
Mordy Lazar, 31, also from Pikesville, is ready for the cicadas’ departure. During a recent neighborhood walk, a rogue cicada landed in Lazar’s mouth.
“It felt like a strategic attack though. I was walking under a tree that was so loud it made my ears ring and then one jumps on my mouth. Had to jump away, spitting and swatting at the air,” Lazar lamented.
It is in those treetops that the male cicadas begin to sing to attract mates. Now, the female cicadas are beginning to lay their eggs on twigs and trees throughout the area, turning the ends of branches brown in a phenomenon called flagging, according to the Maryland Department of Agriculture.
Many adult cicadas already are dying off, littering the ground with their carcasses, but it will be a few weeks before they quiet down entirely.
At the Maryland Zoo in Druid Hill Park, recent measurements have clocked the cicadas’ mating chatter at 100 decibels, said assistant general curator Margaret Rose-Innes, around the same volume level as a jet’s takeoff or the roar of a garbage truck. But Rose-Innes said the animals have been largely undisturbed by the ascendancy of the cicadas, despite many frustrations, particularly among elephants, the last time the red-eyed insects visited in 2004.
The zoo has even joined in the trend of turning cicadas into snacks by feeding the insects to the turtles, lizards and snakes that call the zoo home.
At the Carrie Murray Nature Center in Leakin Park, Director Mary Hardcastle said people have warmed up to the cicadas. At a “Cicada Craze” community event last weekend, Hardcastle said she was surprised by how eager people were to learn about the six-legged creatures.
“Some of the families who showed up from the program and who live in the city are really interested and open,” Hardcastle said.
Cicada population and nuisance reports have varied geographically, with users of the Cicada Safari app documenting the insects flitting about everywhere from Towson and Hampden to parks within Baltimore City. (The app was created by experts at Mount St. Joseph University in Cincinnati to collect cicada reports from the public and help scientists track cicada broods.)
But how many winged neighbors a community has largely depends on its tree population.
“As you plant more trees and green space, cicadas are going to do better,” Raupp said. “When trees disappear, cicadas disappear.”
When it comes to Howard County, Raupp said there are more cicadas than the last time they rose from the ground 17 years ago.
“There are certainly more cicadas than there were in 2004 without question,” he said.
Lisa Schwartz, 54, of Ellicott City is just waiting for the end.
“They’re everywhere. They’re much more intrusive than they used to be,” Schwartz said.
She has resigned to walking and running in the middle of the street to avoid squishing cicadas along the way.
“We are not bug people. They are all over our deck, all over our front step. When I come down in the morning, they are all over the tree. It is gross,” Schwartz said. “I’m definitely over it.”
In the next few weeks, female cicadas will lay the last of their eggs and the newly hatched nymphs will return to the ground, granting people like Schwartz a reprieve — at least, until 2038.