After 17 years underground alone, billions of red-eyed cicadas appear in a breathtaking natural environment.
Wooded areas along the US east coast collapse into a deafening hum to mark the arrival of the vast horde of insects.
Your goal after years underground is to find a partner, breed, and then die.
As they emerge, the insects cover the trees and the ground, and the males fill the air with hums and whistles to attract the females.
However, this sound also leads tourists and scientists to investigate this rare occurrence.
Given the warming of air temperatures and surface soils from climate change, scientists are also interested in learning how the creatures react.
Temperatures affect when cicadas appear and how they grow underground. Scientists saw large numbers of 17-year-old leafhoppers ahead of schedule in 2017 that entomologists suspect may be related to global warming.
“The biggest questions are: Does climate change change your life cycles? And how does it change them then?” said Chris Simon, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Connecticut who has studied insects for more than three decades.
Together with her husband, Simon spent most of May driving around the US east coast following online reports on this year’s brood to determine the exact range.
Her husband, oceanographer Stephen Chiswell, frequently works with her on cicada trips and has published with her on the subject.
The 17-year-old cicadas that appear this year make up Brood X, one of the largest periodic cicada broods.
Other periodic cicada broods appear in other regions of the country every 13 or 17 years, and different cicadas appear every year.
Simon has coordinated with other scientists to map their entire range and has stayed on smaller country roads where traffic won’t drown out the sound of the cicadas, especially those of the most common – and quieter – species, Magicicada Septendecim.
“It’s kind of a lower pitch, milder, and you can’t really hear it when you’re on a freeway,” said Simon.
The cicadas are the offspring of insects that appeared in 2004. After the cicadas mate and mate, the female carves grooves in a tree where she lays hundreds of rice-shaped eggs.
Soon after the eggs hatch, the larvae fall to the ground and dig into the earth.
They dig up individual chambers and begin to grow while feeding on tree sap until it is time to reappear and repeat the cycle.
Some insects show up four years too early or too late. This led Simon and other scientists to suspect that after four years the insects are somehow tracking – a mechanism that could be disrupted by climate change.
In some areas over the past few decades, early groups are growing larger and surviving longer. The early Brood X cicadas in 2017 were more numerous than ever.
“We believe the large climatic fluctuations contributed to the evolution of the seven species we have now,” said John Lill, cicada researcher and chairman of the biology department at George Washington University.
There is clear evidence that cicadas were pushed south during the last glaciation event and then extended their range north again as the earth warmed.
But today’s rapid temperature shifts are “completely different” from the gradual climate changes of the past, he added.