What is Brood X, the U.S. cicada infestation coming in 2021?


They’re big. They’re incredibly loud. And they’re coming by the billions.

Meet Magicicada cassinii, better known as the cicada. Every year, a relatively small number of these insects emerge from the ground in the eastern United States. But once every 17 years, a truly massive brood of cicadas arrives in the mid-Atlantic and Midwest, filling the air with a deafening mating hum that can reach up to 100 decibels.

That phenomenon is named Brood X, or the Great Eastern Brood. It’s set to return in May 2021. For the five to six weeks that they’re above ground, the live cicadas — and their crunchy, discarded exoskeletons — will be impossible to miss.

Here’s everything you need to know about this rare phenomenon… and what it means for you and your plants.

Cicada shells on a statue
Cicadas shed their exoskeletons shortly after emerging from the earth, making their population seem even more numerous than it is.

Julia Schmalz/Bloomberg via Getty Images

What is Brood X, anyway?

Scientists group cicadas based on the year they emerge as adults after spending years developing underground. Brood X is the name for the big generation of cicadas due in the spring of 2021, just as in 2004 and 1987.

Theoretically, there should be 17 different generations of 17-year cicada, each linked to a different geographic zone and a different emergence year. For example, Brood IX, the brood that emerged in 2020, was localized to parts of Virginia, West Virginia and North Carolina.

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