WINCHESTER — It's Time Travel Tuesday! Today we journey to the summer of 2004, when we watched the final episode of "Friends" and slowly lost our minds due to the incessant drone of billions of Brood X cicadas.
Today, the "Friends" cast has reunited for an upcoming special on HBO Max and area residents are once again getting jittery as they await the unwelcome return of the infamous Brood X cicadas.
Every 17 years, billions of Brood X cicada nymphs that have patiently bided their time beneath the Earth's surface begin to emerge to make more babies to annoy future generations.
It doesn't happen all at once, though. A few weeks prior, the nymphs start digging tunnels to the surface. If they dig through muddy soil, they leave behind small mounds called "chimneys." Those chimneys have already been reported in the Winchester area, meaning the nymphs are ready to roll as soon as the soil temperature reaches 64 degrees, which is expected to occur in mid-May.
Once the nymphs come out of the ground, they will cling to nearby trees, grow to adulthood within days and then start to mate. Once their offspring hatches, the new nymphs will fall back to the ground and burrow into the soil to wait their turn to rise in another 17 years.
From mid-May through mid-July, adult male cicadas in the Winchester area will be "singing" to find a mate. Their collective mating calls can reach 100 decibels in volume, which is on par with a chainsaw or jet engine.
J. Christopher Bergh, professor of entomology at Virginia Tech's Alson H. Smith Jr. Agricultural Research and Extension Center in Frederick County, said different groups of cicadas return to the Northern Shenandoah Valley nearly every year. Each group, or brood, is identified by a number depending on the years of their appearances.
Brood X always gets the lion's share of attention due to its massive size, but other smaller cicada groups that emerge in the Mid-Atlantic every 17 years include:
- Brood I (1995, 2012, 2029, 2046)
- Brood II (1996, 2013, 2030, 2047)
- Brood V (1999, 2016, 2033, 2050)
- Brood VIII (2002, 2019, 2036, 2053)
- Brood IX (2003, 2020, 2037, 2054)
- Brood X (2004, 2021, 2038, 2055)
- Brood XIV (2008, 2025, 2042, 2059)
Another group of cicadas found in Virginia, Brood XIX, follows a 13-year reproductive cycle. It previously emerged in 1998 and 2011, and will next be seen in 2024 and 2037.
Brood X is by far the biggest and most widespread of the broods. According to the U.S. Forest Service, as many as 1.5 million cicadas per acre are expected this summer in Virginia, Maryland and D.C.
But noise is only part of the reason that area residents are dreading the return of Brood X cicadas. The insects also pose a threat to trees and vines.
"The adult female, after mating, looks for a place to lay her eggs," Bergh said.
That place is almost always a small branch, about the width of a pencil, where the female will carve a slit and deposit her eggs.
"It looks like stitching," Bergh said.
The process damages the branch, leaving the rest of the limb beyond the point of injury to slowly die.
"Toward the end of June or July, you'll see a lot of dead shoot tips on trees, especially along the edge of forests," Bergh said. "That's all due to cicada egg-laying injuries."
If you want to escape this year's Brood X horror show, be prepared to travel. According to the U.S. Forest Service, this year's cicadas will be emerging in mid-May throughout the Shenandoah Valley and Northern Virginia; the Eastern Panhandle of West Virginia; throughout Maryland, Delaware and Washington, D.C.; in large swaths of Pennsylvania, Indiana and Ohio; and in portions of New York, Michigan, Tennessee, North Carolina and Georgia.
On the bright side, cicadas are considered a rare treat by many connoisseurs. The bugs are edible and, according to most reports, are similar in flavor to asparagus and shrimp.
"Back in 2004 when the cicadas were about to emerge, I had a call from a chef in New York City who wanted to buy cicada nymphs just after they came out of the ground," Bergh said. "He was going to serve them as a delicacy in his restaurant."
If you're eager to cook up a batch of cicadas, check Facebook. The social-media platform is already filling up with Brood X recipes.