Return of the cicada

Take a closer look at the curious 17-year life of the flying bug as the East Coast prepares for an invasion.

The flying insects known as periodical cicadas are among the wildest wonders of nature: Some broods spend 17 years maturing in the ground, and then break out by the billions during a specified spring to mate, lay eggs and die. For Brood II, 2013 is the big year. This image shows a different brood of mature, red-eyed cicadas sitting on leaves in Annandale, Va., during their emergence in May 2004. Click through this slideshow to learn more about cicadas.

Ron Edmonds / AP

A cicada nymph crawls across the ground on May 14, 2007, at the Chicago Botanic Garden in Glencoe, Ill. This cicada was part of Brood XIII, which appeared across parts of the Midwest. Cicadas spend most of their lives as nymphs, living underground and sucking sap from plant roots. They live only about 30 days as adults.

Charles Rex Arbogast / AP

After 17 years of maturation underground, an adult cicada from Brood X emerges from its larval skin on May 16, 2004, in Annandale, Va. The adult bugs are about one and a half inches long, with a nearly 3-inch wingspan.

Ron Edmonds / AP

The empty, nymphal skins of cicadas remain in a tree following the hatch of Brood XIII in 2007 in Willow Springs, Ill. When nymphs rise up from their underground burrows, they climb up trees, lampposts or walls to shed their skins and fly away as adults.

Scott Olson / Getty Images North America

A newly emerged adult cicada dries its wings on a tree in Arlington, Va., during the Brood X emergence in May 2004. Adult cicadas engage in a weeks-long orgy of calling, mating and laying eggs before they die.

© John Pryke / Reuters / X00452

Cicadas climb up a telephone pole in Annandale, Va., during the Brood X emergence in May 2004.

Ron Edmonds / AP

A cicada climbs a tree in Princeton, N.J., in June 2004. Cicadas are mostly harmless to humans and plants, but when they swarm, the spectacle can be unnerving: The buzzing sound of millions of cicadas looking for mates can get as loud as a lawn mower or a jet engine. In fact, the bugs have been known to descend on lawn mowers, leaf blowers or power tools because they mistake the sound for a love call.

Daniel Hulshizer / AP

A box elder beetle, right, stands next to the empty, molted shell from a cicada.

Robin Loznak / Robin Loznak

University of Maryland entomologist Michael Raupp has some fun with an adult cicada in College Park, Md., in May 2004. Raupp says cicada season is prime time for bug researchers. "This is our Super Bowl," he explains.

Matt Houston / AP

The periodical cicadas that belong to the Magicicada genus are found in the eastern United States, but other cicada species pop up in different regions of the world. In China, the insects were long regarded as symbols of rebirth or immoratlity. This 2006 photo shows an artist in Wuhan working on a miniature Maohou sculpture, a genre of Chinese folk art that makes use of cicada shells.

© Stringer Shanghai / Reuters / X01984

Cicadas are said to contain as much protein per pound as red meat. Aficionados boil or fry them up like shrimp. There are even recipes for barbecued cicada.