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After a 17-year wait, cicadas emerge a little early in Chicago area: 'It's a milestone'

Kate Armanini, Chicago Tribune on

Published in Science & Technology News

CHICAGO — It’s official, Chicagoland. Periodical cicadas have arrived.

The large insects, which last emerged in the area 17 years ago, have been spotted in droves in pockets of the city and suburbs. On certain streets on the Far Southwest Side Saturday, cicadas dotted the sidewalks and blanketed the trees.

“It’s pretty exciting. It’s natural systems at their finest,” said Stephanie Adams, the plant health care leader at the Morton Arboretum. “You can just really appreciate them.”

The staff at the arboretum in Lisle first noticed cicadas Monday. By Friday, certain areas were crawling with the insects. Due to warmer weather, the insects appeared about a week earlier than anticipated, according to Adams. The timing of the emergence can be affected by even the slightest variances in soil temperature.

“I would say in people’s neighborhoods, if they have a known host tree, and it’s in a particularly sunny area, you’re going to see emergence earlier,” Adams said.

This year marks a rare double emergence, with the cycles of the 17-year and 13-year cicadas aligning for the first time in 221 years. The last overlap of Brood XIX, four species that appear every 13 years in the Southeast, and Brood XIII, three species that appear every 17 years in northern Illinois, was in 1803.

 

Brood XIX won’t emerge in Chicago, but will be visible in central and southern Illinois. Periodical cicadas only exist in two other countries — Fiji and India.

Nature-lovers Luke Van Schaik and Yvonne Rae have always been fascinated by the insects. It’s why they drove six hours from Ontario, Canada, to Illinois with their children this weekend. Saturday morning, their 8-year-old and 3-year-old played on a sidewalk in Beverly, watching cicadas crawl up their arms.

“We thought we’d take the kids to get some deep dish pizza, see the sights in Chicago, and then see how many cicadas we could catch,” Van Schaik said with a laugh.

Though females can damage young trees as they lay eggs, cicadas are harmless to humans. In fact, the insects are even edible.

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