Unlike the eastern United States, billions of cicadas won’t emerge in Kansas this year. Here’s why

photo by: Bob Hagen

A female periodical Brood IV cicada lays eggs in a small branch in Douglas County in 2015.

If you’re traveling east in the United States this May or June, you might want to bring a set of noise-canceling headphones.

Billions of Brood X cicadas will emerge from the ground after a 17-year hiatus to mate, lay eggs and then die. And when they emerge, they’ll make their presence known. According to USA Today, the cries of cicadas can be as loud as 90 to 100 decibels, which is about as loud as standing 3 feet away from an active lawn mower. The cicadas are expected to survive between four and six weeks.

Kansas, however, will not be a recipient of their symphony. University of Kansas experts Andrew Short and Bob Hagen explained why.

Brood X cicadas are primarily found in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Washington D.C., Indiana, Ohio, Tennessee and Long Island, N.Y. Kansas, on the other hand, has Brood IV cicadas. Similar to the Brood X cicadas, those in Brood IV also only emerge from the ground every 17 years. The last time they appeared in Kansas was in 2015, meaning they won’t return until 2032.

Hagen, the field education coordinator for KU’s environmental studies program, said cicadas spend a vast majority of their lives underground, attached to the roots of trees or other plants. Female cicadas lay their eggs on twigs about 3 to 10 feet above ground. When the eggs hatch, cicadas about 2 millimeters long drop to the ground and have to crawl into the ground and attach to a root. Then, for years — in some cases, 17 years — the cicadas feed on liquid from tree roots.

But not all cicadas burrow for that long. Short, an associate professor and curator in the Department of Ecology & Evolutionary Biology, explained that Kansas also has annual, or “dog day,” cicadas. That’s the reason cicadas can be heard every summer, typically in August. Dog day cicadas stay underground for a shorter period of time, typically between two and five years. Unlike the periodical Brood X and Brood IV cicadas, dog day cicadas are not synchronous, meaning they emerge at different times and years. Dog day cicadas are black and green, Short said, and are a bit bigger than periodical cicadas, which are typically black and orange.

Hagen called the periodical cicadas “an extraordinary phenomenon,” even though the noise can be briefly “annoying.” He studied Kansas’ Brood IV periodical cicadas extensively in 2015 and wanted to remind everyone that Kansas’ Brood IV cicadas would make their return soon enough.

“Tell people they’re still here,” Hagen said. “They’re just waiting.”


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