June 17, 2021
Thousands of Cicadas Wash Up
Thousands of cicadas were washed up on the shore of Herring Bay Friday morning, part of a veiny-winged tide of bugs found on boat ramps and beaches throughout the region.
Kelly McGarvey said she could smell the dead bugs before she even got to the beach. And when she got there she saw a line of dead cicadas along the shore, washed up with the usual flotsam and jetsam. “It’s pretty disgusting,” she said. “And cool.”
Anne Arundel County Forester Bud Reeves said the Brood X cicadas started emerging from the ground around the start of the month, and he said there are two or three weeks of activity left.
Cicadas washing up on the shore of Herring Bay Friday, June 11, 2021. (Kelly McGarvey)
Brood X appears once every 17 years from beneath the roots of trees. They grow up quickly, mate, lay eggs and die. Evidence of their death is absolutely everywhere — on the cement, on the windshield and in the water.
Reeves said the bugs use predator satiation to survive. They appear all at once in such high numbers, the birds and fish eat some but eventually are full, leaving others to mate and lay eggs. Reeves said the number of cicadas on the shore isn’t surprising, given the strategy.
In a big pile on the sand the bugs may all look the same, but there are actually three different species in Brood X, Magicicada septendecim, M. cassinii and M. septendecula, according to Scientific American. Reeves said he has enjoyed watching the cicadas along Riva Road, listening for the species’ three distinct calls and looking at their unique markings. Almost all the cicadas have reddish-orange eyes, he said, except for a few born with blue eyes. “Those are considered one-in-a-million,” he said.
In recent weeks when Severn River Association Executive Director Tom Guay is out on the river, he will scoop up fluttering cicadas from the water’s surface, giving them a chance to dry off on the side of his boat so they can continue their flight. “When out on the river we see a lot of cicadas in the water for their last swim. They start flying across the river, then, uh oh, they’re out of gas,” Guay said.
Jesse Iliff, Arundel Rivers Federation attorney and clean water advocate, said cicadas in large quantities have washed up on the shores of the West, Rhode and South rivers. He is wondering if the decaying cicadas will add to the water’s nitrogen content. He is also wondering if some animals will benefit from the abundant food source. “That’s a lot of little bodies,” he said.
Rachael is the Bowie and environment reporter for the Capital Gazette in Annapolis. She grew up next to the beach but doesn’t know how to sail.