It’s that time of year! After spending 17 years underground, the Brood X cicadas will emerge around the third week of May. “For about four to six weeks after the cicadas emerge, woods and neighborhoods will ring with their buzzing mating calls” (Kelly Kizer Whitt, EARTH, April 1, 2021). Have no fear, though! The cicadas are harmless. They won’t eat crops, and they won’t bite you. They just come to do their business and leave. Once the eggs are laid, the adult cicadas will die; the baby cicadas will hatch and burrow back into the ground for 17 years; and the cycle will repeat.
Cicadas are already trending in the news in the Mid-Atlantic region. Perhaps you’re wondering what the community thought of Brood X’s arrival in the past. Chronicling America is a great resource to compare current news articles about the 17 year cicadas with historic news articles about the brood.
In a 1919 article of the Catoctin Clarion, published in Thurmont, Maryland, there is a quote from a 1669 book that details a cicada visit from years earlier: ““It is to be observed,” he says, “that the spring before there was a numerous company of flies, which were like for bigness unto wasps or bumble-bees, they came out of little holes in the ground, and did eat up the green things, and made such a constant yelling noise as made all the woods ring of them and ready to deaf the hearers” (Catoctin clarion. [volume] (Mechanicstown, Md.), 12 June 1919. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. <https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn84026688/1919-06-12/ed-1/seq-4/>). Of course, they weren’t flies, and they didn’t “eat up the green things.” However, their mating rituals were the same. Hundreds of years later, the Brood X cicadas are likely to do so every 17 years for hundreds of years to come, despite what some 1919 headlines might have led people (who didn’t read the article) to believe.
Researchers even refer to the old news articles to study Brood X over time. You can hear Alie Ward quote the first article mentioned in this blog post in the recent Ologies podcast episode, Cicadology (CICADAS) with Dr. Gene Kritsky. While we anticipate the 2021 arrival, you also can learn more from the UMD Department of Entomology’s Cicada Crew.
To read more about cicadas in the historic newspapers, visit the Chronicling America newspaper database. Try “Cicadas,” “Brood X,” and “Locusts,” for your search terms. Also, be sure to follow @HistoricMDNews on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook!
This post is part of a monthly guest blog post series featuring the Historic Maryland Newspapers Project and Chronicling America. The Historic Maryland Newspapers Project at University of Maryland Libraries is the Maryland state awardee of the National Digital Newspaper Program. National Endowment for the Humanities and Library of Congress developed this program for state partners to digitize historic newspapers from across the country and make them freely accessible in the Chronicling America newspaper database.
Bryanna Bauer is a student assistant for the Historic Maryland Newspapers Project and a second year MLIS student in the College of Information Studies. Additionally, Bauer is a Digital Curation Fellow at the National Agricultural Library in partnership with the iSchool.