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It's that time: Millions of cicadas emerging from 17-year cycle to scream, mate, die

The insects can reach noise levels of up to 100 decibels

Published: May 23, 2020 12:55pm

Updated: May 23, 2020 1:12pm

Residents of the American south are bracing for the emergence of a new brood of 17-year cicadas, the exceedingly noisy insects that fill the summer air with their loud mating calls nearly every two decades. 

Southerners may soon be treated to "a cacophonous whining like a field of out-of-tune car radios," Virginia Tech announced this week. The bugs live in underground burrows, slowly maturing over their 17-year life cycle, before emerging for about a month to mate, after which they quickly die. 

The relatively brief adult life of the cicadas is nevertheless notable from the outsized noise levels they generate over the course of about four weeks. The distinct buzzing emitted by the bugs—what Charles Darwin called "ceaseless harsh music"—is generated by the males of the species in their attempts to attract potential female mates. 

This year's brood "spans Southwest Virginia, parts of North Carolina, and West Virginia," Virginia Tech said.

While in their burrows, cicadas feed on tree roots. After emerging the females are known to threaten certain types of fruit trees and vines by laying their eggs on them. 

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