From car crashes to plane delays, cicadas wreaking havoc by the billions


Vincent Bingham wasn’t bothered by cicadas — the large, noisy insects that have been reemerging by the billions in large swaths of the United States after 17 years underground.

That is, until one of the buggers flew into his driver’s side window while he was on his way home from work earlier this week.

“I didn’t have AC in the car so I had my windows down,” Bingham, of New Richmond, Ohio, told ABC News. “I was halfway home, I was just driving, and one of the cicadas just came flying and smacked me right in the face. … It was out of nowhere.”

The 20-year-old swerved his car into a pole, smashing it enough to total it, he said. The Cincinnati Police Department tweeted about the Monday crash with the hashtag, “nothinggoodhappenswithcicadas.”

Bingham has since started a GoFundMe in hopes of raising money to help buy a new car, which was towed away with the culprit cicada crawling around near the back seat, he said.

“It didn’t bother me that much before. I would pick them up and I would throw them in my sister’s hair,” he said. “But now, it messed up a lot of stuff.”

“It sucks so much,” added Bingham, who was able to walk away from the crash unscathed, save for some bruises.

Periodical cicadas, who spend most of their lives underground before reemerging after precisely 13 or 17 years, have both fascinated and annoyed people with their mysterious life cycle and loud mating ritual.

This spring, cicada nymphs that are part of what’s dubbed Brood X have crawled up from the ground, where they have been feeding off sap from tree roots for the past 17 years, to shed their skins, become adults, mate, lay eggs and die — all within the span of weeks.

This particular brood has been anticipated for its sheer size and scope — as many as 1.5 million per acre are expected to blanket trees and plants in one of the largest geographical areas in North America, according to the University of Connecticut’s Cicada Mapping Project.

They have not gone unnoticed. Beyond their chorusing, a high-pitched shrill that can reach as high as 100 decibels — about as loud as a lawnmower — the bugs have made headlines for invading a PGA Tour tournament in Ohio, startling a CNN reporter during a live shot in front of the U.S. Capitol, delaying journalists headed to Europe to cover President Joe Biden’s first overseas trip this week after overwhelming part of the Delta charter plane’s auxiliary power unit, and even landing on Biden before he boarded Air Force One for the trip on Wednesday.

For people who live in areas where the bugs are plentiful, they may be seen as a nuisance that encourages them to stay inside. Those using equipment like circular saws and lawnmowers outside may inadvertently draw the attention of female cicadas, who are attracted to that sound, Mike Wedding, a Cincinnati-based entomologist with the pest control company ScherZinger, told ABC News.

“A lot of advice we give customers is to mow your lawn or do a lot of your yard work towards the evening hours” when they’re less active, Wedding said. “Granted, they’ll still come at you.”

For those with entomophobia — an extreme fear of insects — cicada season can be a trying time as well, noted Don Cipollini, a professor of biological sciences at Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio. Though they might cause problems, the bugs do not bite or sting.

“People have the sense that when you walk down the street and one flies into you, they’re attacking you or something — they’re not,” Cipollini told ABC News. “They’re just awkward, clumsy fliers and they’ll just run into you by accident.”

Save for the rare car crash or plane grounding, cicadas typically do the most damage to trees. When it comes time for the females to lay their eggs, they cut slits into branches.

“Trees react in different ways to that,” Cipollini said. “Some trees basically have what you might call a hypersensitive reaction where they actually kill off the end of the branch.”

MORE: Cicadas delay White House press charter to Europe

To protect against this pruning effect, especially in more vulnerable fruit trees, people can cover them with netting, he said.

After the piercing shrill of the cicadas’ mating call comes the stench after they die and decay, blanketing sidewalks, driveway and yards and clogging gutters.

“In large piles, they will start to smell when they decompose,” Cipollini said. “That’s something that’s kind of annoying about them.”

Cipollini recommended raking the dead bugs to spread them out, or composting them to speed up the decomposition process. “Even after they die off, they’re still with us for a while,” he said.

Beyond the nuisance factor, though, cicadas are a “scientific bellwether” of a healthy environment and indicate there are thriving mature trees, Cipollini said. As the bugs crawl out of the dirt, they also help aerate the soil, and once above ground are a plentiful food source for many animals, with studies showing cicadas have a reverberating effect on wildlife populations, he said.

Cicadas can make for free bait for fishermen, feed for chickens and fertilizer for trees, Wedding added.

“They’re a wonder of nature, is how I like to describe it,” Cipollini said. “There are camps, I’ve really found — people that love them, people that hate them. I haven’t had a lot of luck converting the haters, but at least they can learn more about them and hopefully at least appreciate them.”

For Bingham, the car crash caused by his run-in with a cicada provided another lesson — keep your windows closed for a few weeks while the bugs are above ground.

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