If the prospect of trillions of cicadas emerging from the earth fills you with excitement, Fairfax County’s official tourism organization has just the game for you.
Visit Fairfax has introduced a Cicada Stroll Bingo card where participants can mark off squares when they take photos of a cicada at certain locations for a chance to win insect-inspired prizes.
“While some may view the arrival of the Brood X cicadas as a nuisance, we here at Visit Fairfax choose to look at it as an exceptional opportunity for visitors and residents to witness one of Earth’s most remarkable natural occurrences – and have fun at the same time!” Visit Fairfax President and CEO Barry Biggar wrote in the press release.
Suggested sites to spot cicadas range from pieces of public art like Patrick Doughtery’s “Bird in Hand” in Reston Town Square Park to the Sully Historic Site in Chantilly. Other boxes to check include county hiking trails, shopping centers, a brewery or winery, near water, and at a restaurant (hopefully, not on your food).
Anyone who fills out two squares in their bingo card, plus the traditional “free” square in the center, can upload the card and accompanying photos for a chance to get a Cicada Care package with items like a custom cicada facemask.
Winners will be announced in May, and some of the best photos will be featured on the county’s blog and social media.
The Cicada Bingo Card was conceived as a way to showcase “road trip travel” and encourage folks to visit outdoor county attractions safely in a “quirky kind of way,” Visit Fairfax spokesperson Ali Morris says.
She adds that this is also another way to encourage residents to visit and support their favorite local business as they recover from an extremely rough last year.
The D.C. region is expected to be the epicenter for the emergence of Brood X, a brood of cicadas that emerge only every 17 years. They spend their larva years underground, which is anywhere from two to 17 years, chowing down on tree roots.
There could be millions of them buzzing around in the area in the early summer. They’re extremely loud, thanks to the sound that the males produce by rubbing their legs together to attract potential mating partners.
While they are also big as far as insects go, they’re completely harmless. In fact, their long life cycles and the fact that they are so numerous are really their only defense mechanisms from predators.
The Brood X cicadas are expected to hit peak emergence in Northern Virginia in late May through early June. While they’ll be visible and audible everywhere, parks and other natural settings will be the best place to see and hear them.
They are also edible, to an extent.
“A few are not likely to hurt pets but too many could cause digestive issues,” Fairfax County Park Authority naturalist Tammy Schwab told Reston Now last month. “They are edible by people if you’re brave enough to try it.”
Photo courtesy Visit Fairfax
The cicadas are coming.
17 years after their last appearance, swarms of cicadas known collectively as periodical cicada Brood X are preparing to stage a sequel this spring, with the D.C. area as the epicenter of a natural phenomenon that will encompass 15 states across the eastern and midwestern U.S.
Tammy Schwab, a naturalist and education and outreach manager for the Fairfax County Park Authority, says the insects are expected to emerge in the county around the middle of May, when the ground temperature reaches about 64 degrees Fahrenheit.
“Cicadas are special because of their extremely long life cycle,” Schwab told Tysons Reporter by email. “Cicadas spend 2-17 years as a larva underground feeding on the roots of trees. Most other insects have much shorter life spans.”
According to the National Wildlife Federation, adult periodical cicadas are black with orange underneath. They are just over an inch in length and boast clear, “membranous,” black-veined wings that span three inches across.
These cicadas are different from annual cicadas, which live underground for two to five years before emerging as adults, typically between May and September. Because their life cycles aren’t as closely synchronized as periodical cicadas, some annual cicadas appear every year.
Fairfax County last saw Brood X — one of 15 periodical cicada broods in the U.S. — at the scale anticipated this spring in 2004, but a handful of the insects were spotted locally in 2017.
“As part of the cicada survival strategy some of each brood can emerge between 1 and 4 years early in case some catastrophe were to destroy all the cicadas in a given emergence,” Schwab explained.
They're coming! This is the year of the 17-year cicada in our area. There will be trillions of them in early summer. They are harmless. They are loud. They are high in protein, if you're into that. They don't social distance. It's a phenomenon of nature to be enjoyed. Can't wait! pic.twitter.com/WR5qWCXq3m
— Fairfax County Parks (@fairfaxparks) March 4, 2021
In comparison, Schwab says “millions” of cicadas could blanket the D.C. region this year, though the numbers could vary across different areas depending on how much land development has occurred over the past 17 years.
Both adult and larval cicadas depend on trees for food, so they tend to be more prevalent in forested areas. However, people in more developed residential neighborhoods might notice them sooner, since the ground warms more quickly in open spaces than in the woods, according to Schwab.
She says the loss of tree cover to development “will definitely decrease populations,” but reforestation prior to an emergence could result in an increase. Fairfax County had stream bank stabilization projects at Snakeden Branch in Reston, Difficult Run in Oakton, Accotink Creek, and Cinnamon Creek in the Wolf Trap area in 2003, the year before Brood X’s last emergence.
“It would be very interesting to see if these project areas had any effect on the population,” Schwab said.
While the appearance of millions of loud, winged insects may sound alarming, cicadas are harmless for humans. The most notable impact will be on newly planted trees, which can be damaged by cicada egg laying.
Schwab advises residents to wait until the fall before planting new trees or utilize insect netting to protect their branches.
She also says people should watch what their pets are eating.
“A few are not likely to hurt pets but too many could cause digestive issues,” Schwab said. “They are edible by people if you’re are brave enough to try it.”
Photo courtesy Fairfax County Park Authority
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