Cicadas will descend on the northeastern United States in May 2016, as billions of the flying creatures complete their 17-year life cycle. These insects are loud, and residents of regions where the animals are found are sure to notice their arrival.

The distinctive sound comes from the male cicadas, who create the sound using structures on their abdomens known as tymbals.

"Periodical cicadas (Magicicada spp.) are different from the more familiar 'annual' cicadas that emerge later in the summer. The development of Periodical cicadas is synchronized, while that of 'annual' cicadas' is not. Almost all periodical cicadas grow and mature into adults at the same time, which is why we witness such huge groups of them every 17 or 13 years," the Library of Congress reports.

Cicadas are closely related to leafhoppers and treehoppers, despite frequently being mislabeled as 13-year or 17-year locusts. The insects are long-lived, hiding away for 12 or 16 years before they emerge as full-grown adults ready for mating.

While in the juvenile stage and living underground, the insects live off fluids from roots. A few weeks before leaving their subterranean lairs, cicadas burrow tunnels to the surface. As they emerge into the air, the tiny animals land on local vegetation, where they complete their final molting process. They then move into trees, where they spend five or six days waiting for their exoskeleton to harden.

"Periodical cicadas are found in eastern North America and belong to the genus Magicicada. There are seven species - four with 13-year life cycles (including one new species described in 2000), and three with 17-year cycles. The three 17-year species are generally northern in distribution, while the 13-year species are generally southern and midwestern," the University of Michigan reports.

Cicadas emerge from the juvenile homes when temperatures climb over 64 degrees Fahrenheit. Because the timing of their appearance depends on the weather, the animals take to the skies in southern latitudes and lower elevations before they are seen in northern and higher locations.

People wishing to see the first appearance of cicadas in their area are advised to check historical records of such occurrences in the past. The timing of their life cycle does not change significantly over generations, but warm or cold streaks this spring could have an effect.

Photo: Oakley Originals | Flickr

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