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The Cicadas Are Coming: Billions Of Insects To Emerge After 17 Years Underground

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If you live on the East Coast between Georgia and Connecticut, get ready for the air to be filled with billions of large, buzzing insects known as cicadas, a massive brood of which have been feeding on roots underground for the past 17 years -- all in preparation for this one moment.

A small number of the "Brood II" cicadas, which are one of seven different species of the insect, have already begun emerging in some eastern states, according to Magicicada.org, a website run by John Cooley, a cicada expert and research scientist at the University of Connecticut.

By the end of May, the inch-and-a-half-long insects will come out in full force, swarming in massive, noisy clouds up and down the eastern seaboard, reports CBS New York.

The red-eyed insects, also known as Magicicada, tend to form denser clouds than other varieties of cicada. These swarms can be as dense as 1.5 million cicadas per acre, Cooley notes on his website. A single Brood II female, the website also says, can lay as many as 600 eggs before she dies, but we're much too scared to do the math on how many eggs per acre that would be.

Cousins of crickets, cicadas are harmless to humans, though their presence can be alarming. "As if from some horror movie, cicada nymphs have been described as 'boiling out of the ground,'" writes The New York Times. People sometimes use snow shovels to remove them from their property, the paper also notes.

"It can be like raking leaves in the fall, except instead of leaves, it's dead cicada bodies," cicada researcher Dan Mozgai told National Geographic.

Despite being repulsive to many, the Magicicada is a fascinating creature. Consider this: The current generation of Brood II cicadas burrowed underground as babies in 1996, around the time "Unabomber" Ted Kaczynski was arrested in a cabin in the woods of western Montana. Since then, they've been sucking root fluids to survive, growing steadily larger while waiting for the spring of 2013 to emerge from the ground to breed.

The intense buzzing noise they emit, which can be as loud as 100 decibels, is part of an elaborate mating ritual that lasts for a mere six weeks before they perish. At that point, their babies will burrow underground to repeat the cycle, not to emerge until 2030.

Researchers have hypothesized that periodical cicadas evolved prime-numbered life cycles (there's also a 13-year variety of Magicicada) to avoid certain parasites, and that they stay underground for so long to avoid larger predators like birds and squirrels, National Geographic writes.

Still, (believe it or not) the cicadas haven't managed to avoid being eaten by humans.

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