Local News

Year of the Locust? Not Quite.

Posted May 5, 1998

— The year is 1985. Tina Turner's "What's Love Got to Do With It" was all over the radio. President Ronald Reagan and Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev held their first summit. And people in the Triangle area complained about millions of big, loud, ugly bugs.

Mary Williams and her north Durham neighbors have almost been like characters in a Stephen King movie in the last couple of days. She has been witnessing an event repeated every 13 years.

"Ahhh! These are the 13 year cicadas," declares entomologist Ken Ahlstrom. "What we have emerging this year is brood 19."

The brood spent half of the 80's and most of the 90's eating roots underground. Mary's next door neighbor told her they were a type of locust. Not so. Ahlstrom says the correct name for locusts are grasshoppers.

Swarms of locusts would devour vegetation. Mary's been lucky. She hasn't noticed that they have eaten anything in her yard. Cicadas are too busy shedding their skin, too busy singing and mating to be bothered with food.

In their large masses, the cicadas are like a small army. Right now they're quiet, but this army can get noisy.

"I've been to places where you cannot talk to the person standing next to you because the sound is so loud," says Ahlstrom.

Mary's biggest concern is when they are going to leave. Hopefully, it will be before cooking season. The adults have a life span of about 5 to 6 weeks.

So, does El Nino have anything to do with it? No way. At least they're not locusts. According to Mary's mother, when the locusts come, there will also be a war.

Right now, it's just a battle of the cicadas.


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