Cicada Emergence: The Makings of a Historic Summer 

Photo by Eddie Blow of Edgewater

By Meg Walburn Viviano 

This is the CBM Bay Weekly you’ve been waiting for—the cicada edition! Okay, we’ll admit, no one actually asked for a cicada-themed issue. But the 17-year brood is just about ready to emerge, and their presence is going to affect us all, so we might as well consider all the angles involved. 

Should we be concerned? Will they be creepy? Can they hurt us, our pets or our trees? Entomologists say the answer to all of these questions is no. (Though I guess it depends on your definition of creepy. Large bugs with red eyes, which surface from the soil in great numbers, might fall into the creepy category for me.) 

However, there is something beautiful about this 17-year phenomenon and the anticipation surrounding it. The cicadas’ arrival is a common experience that people across the Chesapeake region will share—and it has nothing to do with the pandemic. I will gladly welcome a non-COVID-related current event, even if it does come with beady red eyes. 

Having been underground for almost two decades since they hatched, the cicadas don’t know anything about the coronavirus. In fact, they also weren’t around for the Great Recession, the smartphone era, the presidencies of Barack Obama and Donald Trump, the mass-marketing of electric vehicles, or the dominance of social media. 

In 2004, last time the cicadas were around, Britney Spears’ belly-button-ring-and-denim-look were in style and I listened to her songs on my iPod portable media player. That summer, Michael Phelps won eight gold medals at the Athens Summer Olympics, and America mourned the death of former President Ronald Reagan. 

The changes of the last 17 years underscore the remarkable nature of these underground Chesapeake Country residents. The Brood X cicadas quietly wait as nymphs for all those years, through all the changes above the surface. Then, they storm onto the scene, shed their skins, become adults, mate, lay eggs and die, all in the course of one summer. The next time they emerge, my preschoolers will be college-age or graduating. 

The presence of Brood X is a piece of history—a way to mark the passage of time. And once the 2021 population is gone, most of us will probably forget about them until their 2038 reemergence approaches. Why not embrace the moment? Let me reassure you: this issue of Bay Weekly isn’t entirely dedicated to the Brood X cicadas. We’re reporting on other stories, too: simple pleasures like the art of creating a May basket (Annapolis has the technique down pat) and the start of rockfish season with tips for successful baiting

Cicadas, rock fishing, May flowers—all hallmarks of a memorable summer. Here they come!