The Brood and the Bagpipe: A Horror Story

Cicada in HandBrood III, also known as the Iowan Brood, has emerged in Winterset. The Brood consists of millions of cicadas who emerge above ground once every 17 years. They’re not poisonous and pose no harm to humans, according to the literature I’ve found. That discounts near heart failure on first encounter.

This emergence is welcomed with awe by children and other misinformed people, who express glee over millions of bugs calling for mates. The males vibrate little drum-like organs on the sides of their bodies to attract females – at 90 decibels – from mid-morning until late afternoon. I suppose if one mates only every 17 years a bit of celebration is in order, but would a smidgen of discretion be too much to ask?

Brood III Map

2014 Brood III (arrow indicates our location)

This brood of cicadas lives 18 – 24 inches underground for 16 years, emerging in the 17th year to breed. They crawl up from underground just after sunset and climb onto vertical surfaces to molt. Our front porch has 3 white pillars covered with the shells left behind from molting. After molting the bugs sit around long enough for their wings to harden, and then set about their mating rituals. After 4 – 6 weeks the nymphs created during this love-fest crawl back underground to await the next round.

There are other broods that emerge every 13 years. Some scientists have proposed that these prime-number emergences help the cicadas evade potential predators living on other cycles. Even so, dogs, cats, snakes, birds, and squirrels will eat them to satiation, but the huge numbers of The Brood absorb these losses easily. The squirrels are so cute; they daintily eat the bugs like little ears of sweet corn.

Cicadas have 2 bulging, red eyes on the sides of their heads. They have an additional 3 eyes on the very top of the head. These are tiny and black, and virtually unnoticeable. Despite seeing perfectly, even supernaturally well these beasts land on humans during their mate-hunting drunk-on-love flights. I’ve learned that running around and screeching is a much better solution to this problem than squishing the bugs. Sadly, they are quite voluminous (about the size of my thumb) and squish in a most spectacular fashion.

One of the sources I researched warned of cicada pee. They feed by sucking juices from woody plants, so there is a fluid disposal issue. With around 40,000 cicadas in each tree this can pose a challenge to the casual walker. The source said to wear a hat “if such things bother you.” I suggest a mackintosh and umbrella. Oh, and do the research before you go out for your walk.

Wear a hat if such things bother you.

Himself discovered that the female cicadas are attracted to the sound of a lawn mower. They must mistake the lawn mower for chorusing males and they swarm the operator with lust in their hearts. This is probably something I should have read about before sending my husband out to mow, as well.

Handsome PiperThe Brood also poses challenges for the June bride. One site suggested incorporating The Brood into your outdoor celebration by passing out boxes for children to save their collection of bugs, and suggested the bride not be alarmed by occasional screams of guests. Turn it all into a memorable event sort of thing, don’t you know? The most brilliant solution came from the advice to hire a bagpiper to play at the reception. It seems that cicadas do not care for pipes. Perhaps piping is competition for their love calls?

I have been unable to locate a single bagpipe in any Winterset shop, much less a handsome piper. Do you think iTunes might be a solution?


  1. 1

    Love the cicada story. It looks like you have three choices: 1. Find a cd of bagpipes and play it loudly, or 2, Move back to sunny bug free California, or 3. suffer through this along with the snow, hail, & hurricanes.

    I am off tomorrow morning to Vegas to watch my son compete in an international chess tournament. Should be interesting.

  2. 3

    Suzy, you are hilarious! I am so sorry you have to endure this for several weeks; but dang if it doesn’t make a funny story! 😀


  3. 5
    Marte Brunsting says:

    Well Suzy, you always did have a good sense of humor. Loved the cicada story. I agree with Ellen, move back to sunny California. We all miss you.

  4. 7

    Sheeeeeeesh!! I surely don’t envy anyone who has to be outside during cicada season! I knew they existed but not in such numbers!! Thanks for not including cicada recipes!!! Nature is amazing – sometimes!!

    • 8

      Thanks for stopping by, Kaye.
      Nature IS amazing. The horror of the once-every-17-year cicada invasion is more than balanced by having fireflies every year. They are just magical on a summer evening!

  5. 9

    I lived in Baltimore for 25 years and am very familiar with the 17 year locusts. My solution, when I had to walk to church as the library chairman, was one of those umbrellas that came down over your shoulders. I was there in 2004 when Stephen, grandson, graduated from the Naval Academy. and it was 17 year locust year. My daughter-in-law was so taken with the bugs that she brought some home with her and she kept them in the freezer – Ah well – to each his own! Miss you Suzy!

    • 10

      I miss you, too, Peggy!
      There is another brood due to emerge in 2015. It’s on a 13-year cycle, and is based just outside of our area. We may see a few but they will be mostly west of us and down in Missouri. Perhaps I should get an over-the-shoulders umbrella just in case?

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