The Cicadas Are Coming to a Philadelphia Tree Near You

"Brood II" set to emerge in summer 2013.

It doesn’t get more blissful than an early taste of summer. The five-day report might predict thunderstorms and mid-50s over the next couple days, but on warm, muggy afternoons like we had this week, who could care? Even momentarily passing that 80-degree mark assured us we were just weeks away from the usual summer delights: the flowers blooming, the Popsicles melting, the Phillies …  showing up.

I was basking in this temperate mindset earlier this week when a headline flashed across Twitter that cast a chill over my seasonal glee: “Swarmageddon: Rise of ‘Broad II’ Cicadas.”

No, I thought. No, no, no, no. No way that after the fall and winter we just endured—those stubbornly endless few months, in which we withstood an election and the Eagles, remember—would Mother Nature schedule a 17-year cicada surge. Summer 2013 is supposed to be the summer I buy plastic patio furniture and a grill off Craigslist, people. Surely someone has miscounted the years.

Alas, the two days of summer preview we just had may be the most carefree of the year.

Brood II (which sounds like a violent video game) is one of the herds of cicadas that emerge every 17 years from their mostly underground life cycle. The soil warms, and they dig tunnels up to the surface, crawling up whatever standing object is available, like trees, rocks or maybe even your leg. Then, they break out of their shells, make as much noise as possible to attract a mate, lay eggs, and perish, leaving us with a crunchy layer of dried wings and antennae to sweep from our stoops through the fall.

The aftermath is ugly, but it still isn’t nearly as repulsive as the cicada siege itself. The article notes that cicadas are often mistaken for locusts. This makes sense, because both are about as attractive and non-threatening as flying piranhas. Their size, density and potential to black out our sunny landscape this summer are nothing short of biblical.

I’ve managed to dodge the 17-year cicada appearances for most of my life, but a Brood did infest my hometown outside Chicago once in the early ’90s. I was too little to remember it, but my mom remembers watching our neighbors’ obnoxious young sons picking the creatures up and throwing them at one another. We plucked them out of windshield wipers. She went for a bike ride and got welts.

The cruelest part of cicada infestations is that they tend to accumulate in heavily wooded areas, with older trees, where the generations have accumulated underground. So: Fairmount Park, Wissahickon Park, Rittenhouse Square—you know, all the places you’re looking forward to spending more time in now that it’s delightful summer.

To be fair, experts predict that Jersey will take more of a hit than Philly this summer, but no one knows for sure. What is absolutely certain is that if an infestation does crop up, summer is ruined. Made In America won’t matter if the Parkway is covered in an apocalyptic swarm of screeching bug-missiles on rumspringa.

My panic is maybe a little premature, and as you’ve probably sniffed out, I’m not really a “bugs are cool!” person. But it’s been a long winter. Haven’t we earned a few months to frolic outside, unmolested by these prune-sized pests? I’ll put my insect anxiety on ice while the weather cools off next week, but I’m keeping a close eye on the summer 2013 forecast. So far, patterns indicate hot, humid and crunchy.