Local News

'Alien buzz' kicks off cicada mating season

Posted May 9, 2011

— Residents of Holly Springs and Apex were spooked this week when a loud hum that many described as sounding like a UFO invaded their backyards.

"An alien buzz; it's a pretty cool sound," said Apex resident Brad Bergeson.

That "alien buzz" is so loud that it's sometimes hard for Katie Henry, of Holly Springs, to talk above the noise.

"It sounds like close encounters," she said. "We thought it was the nuclear power plant."

She called Progress Energy, the utility that runs the Shearon Harris nuclear plant in western Wake County. The company said she wasn't the first to call about the noise.

"She said, 'You are not going to believe me, but it is the cicadas,'" Henry said.

This special kind of cicada stays underground for 13 years and then rises above ground in order to mate.

"They come out in mass, all at once," said Clyde Sorenson, professor of entomology at North Carolina State University. "This is a really cool natural phenomenon and the only place it happens is in eastern North America."

'Alien buzz' kicks off cicada mating season 'Alien buzz' kicks off cicada mating season

Sorenson said there can be as many as a million per acre, so it's no wonder the buzz can be deafening.

The male cicadas produce the sound with their bodies, flexing little plates on the sides of their abdomens that are covered in ridges of exoskeleton, Sorenson said. 

The buzz is a mating call.

"It is all about sex, they just want to find females," he said.

Cicadas only live about three or four weeks above ground. Their eggs hatch in the trees and their offspring make their way back to the dirt.

"They go back into the ground for 13 more years," Sorenson said. 

WRAL received many reports from visitors about the buzz. Some people said they had called 911. 

But Sorenson said he expects the insects to die off by the end of May. And, he added, cicadas don't bite and aren't dangerous to people.

In fact, Sorenson said, people ate them hundreds of years ago. 


This story is closed for comments.

Oldest First
View all
  • Buddy110 May 10, 2011

    "The scary thought is, the people that called actually vote in elections."

    Exactly. I guess walking outside and realizing the sound was coming from a tree is too much to ask. Lol, nuclear power plant....lololol. Geez.

  • pinball wizard May 10, 2011

    The scary thought is, the people that called actually vote in elections.

  • VoiceMatters May 10, 2011

    All the cicadas from below ground came out to celebrate UBL's demise.

  • velomac May 10, 2011

    The currently emerging periodical cicadas are of the genus Magicicada, of which there are 7 species (4 with 13 year cycles & 3 with 17 year cycles). These are likely from Brood XIX - the Great Southern Brood. They are different from the larger annual (or dog-day) cicadas, which typically emerge in late July & August each year. Worldwide there are ~2500 species of cicadas. There is a wealth of info about cicadas in the Wikipedia articles (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Periodical_cicada) & (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cicada).

    I have not observed the Magicicadas in Burlington yet, but they have been seen & heard in large numbers in parts of Randolph county since the beginning of May. Nature certainly is miraculous...

  • RomneyRyan2012 May 10, 2011

    I'm not sure what states they include in Eastern North America but I remember vividly the sound of cicadas while growing up in Indiana.

  • foreverblue May 10, 2011

    Reminds me of the movie "The Tommyknocker" by Stephen King. That irritating noise that eventually killed people. I don't have the sound at my house in Siler City, but my son and inlaws do and it just creeps me out!!!!

  • 6869735 May 10, 2011

    Just the other day a cicada complained to me that, "there is a strange 'Alien buzz' in the Holly Springs and Apex area." He seemed really "spooked"! He said he wasn't comming back for another 13 years.

  • Fireflies Rock May 10, 2011


  • terrible terrier May 10, 2011

    Southern Ohio has overlapping 13 year and 17 year Cicadas. Once, while we lived there, both broods came out at the same time. There were so many that there were many auto accidents on the Interstates...the roads were actually slippery with the critters!

  • devilblue May 10, 2011

    I heard this noise in Durham on my way home and at first thought it was my car! I don't expect to hear this noise until about August.