Don’t hold your breath waiting for the Brood X periodic cicadas, because you will turn blue before seeing them if you are in Massachusetts.   

Periodic cicadas were not part of the masses that descended on the Island last week. In fact, residents of the commonwealth won’t see an emergence of periodic cicadas until 2025; even then Islanders might not report any sightings. Only time will tell, since that group, Brood XIV, are only expected in certain parts of the state, including Cape Cod but not the Islands.  

Brood X, the group of 17-year cicadas that have been making news across the country, will only appear in 15 states and we are not one of them.  In the South, folks started seeing these insects in mid-May. Sightings moved north through the month and as far as New Jersey and New York.

The periodic cicada bug bounty both amazes and disgusts folks, but the phenomenon is inarguably fascinating. Masses of each brood class of these insects emerge once every 17 years, spending most of their lives below ground waiting for their time to surface. In May, when conditions are right, crowds of periodic cicadas emerge to mate, lay eggs and die in a four-to-six-week period. The eggs laid in trees will hatch the next generation that fall to the ground and dig down to lay in wait for their emergence in another 17 years.  

Entomologist Charles Marlatt of the U.S. Department of Agriculture is credited with developing the system of groupings to describe the periodic cicada phenomenon at the dawn of the twentieth century. He established Broods I through XVII, always in Roman numerals, for the 17-year variety and Broods XVII through XXX for the 13-year variety. However, scientists have established that there are only half as many broods, so every year does not yield an emergence. Marlatt’s other claim to fame is the introduction of ladybugs into the United States which he imported and released to contain a species of scale insect.  

The cicadas that appear en masse are a boon, not a bother, so please leave them be if you are in an area that hosts them. Their emergence creates tunnels in the ground, aerating the soil, and the adults are a food bonanza for many other creatures. Even humans are known to partake, with reports that the taste of the newly-emerged white insects is comparable to cold canned asparagus.

Cicada eggs laid in the trees will help, not harm, their host. The damage done to the trees acts as a pruning. The tree’s subsequent flowering and fruiting often increases after the eggs hatch and the larvae go back into the ground.

For those who feel that they have missed something in not experiencing the entomological eruption, take heart that the lack of larvae is only temporary. There are other cicadas to observe and enjoy. While we wait for the periodic versions, the annual dog day cicadas always make a summer appearance with their own peculiar presence and acoustic hullabaloo.

Suzan Bellincampi is director of the Felix Neck Wildlife Sanctuary in Edgartown, and author of Martha’s Vineyard: A Field Guide to Island Nature and The Nature of Martha’s Vineyard.