Drivers Never Learn the One Lesson of Cicada Season

President Joe Biden, with a brood X cicada on his back, walks to board Air Force One upon departure, Wednesday, June 9, 2021, at Andrews Air Force Base, Md.

President Joe Biden, with a brood X cicada on his back, walks to board Air Force One upon departure, Wednesday, June 9, 2021, at Andrews Air Force Base, Md. Alex Brandon/AP

Brood X always leaves behind a spate of weird stories.

The story sounds ridiculous, but it’s true: A man in Ohio recently drove his car into a utility pole after a cicada flew through his open window and smacked into his face. He was fine! The car, not so much.

The Brood X cicadas have certainly made their presence known over the past several weeks: their ceaseless screeching from the treetops, their slow, meandering manner of flying around, sometimes right into us. Last week, a plane carrying journalists who were accompanying President Joe Biden on his trip to Europe was delayed for more than five hours at a Virginia airport because of “mechanical problems caused by the cicadas.” Biden himself was not spared; standing on the tarmac before boarding his own plane, the president discovered a cicada crawling on his neck and swatted it away.

Strange cicada-related encounters seem to occur with every 17-year emergence of Brood X, as clockwork as the invasion itself, according to Gaye Williams, an entomologist at the Maryland Department of Agriculture. Williams keeps a file drawer full of quirky cicada tales going back to 1987. She has spent the past several weeks getting to know the cicadas in her backyard, taking decibel readings of their constant buzzing, and trying to stop her dog, Penelope, from gorging on the bugs. “All these animals want to do is what we want to do: They want to grow up, party, have kids,” Williams told me. I get it! But when they’re here, they’re everywhere. The sheer numbers are a great survival strategy for the species—with so many cicadas out all at once, predators can’t catch them all—but they’re also a recipe for weird run-ins with humans. And there are plenty of stories to prove it.

[Read: Cicadas have an existential problem]

Drivers like the man in Ohio are especially susceptible to cicada hijinks. In 1987, a man in Virginia also slammed his car into a utility pole after a cicada flew into his face. He wasn’t injured, but the incident caused $20,000 in damage and temporarily knocked out power to 50 homes, according to a Washington Post story from that year. In 2004, a similar intrusion caused a woman in Baltimore to crash her car into a fire hydrant. In her attempts to swat the bug away, the woman told The Washington Times, “I took both hands off the steering wheel.” She was unharmed, and the crash’s only victims were a couple of the neighbors’ flowers, which that were washed away by the water spraying from the destroyed hydrant.

And then there are the self-owns. In 1987, the Chicago Tribune described a rash of cicada-related accidents among, as the reporter put it, “the youths”: One youngster who tried to squash a cicada under the tire of a slowly moving car ended up getting his hand run over, and another who tried to swing a baseball bat at one of the bugs hit a friend instead. One youngster “attempted to stab a cicada with a pocket knife and accidentally stabbed” someone else.

At every emergence, people become intrigued enough by cicadas to eat them—hey, free source of protein!—and sometimes take their curiosity too far. In 2004, a man in Indiana broke out in head-to-toe hives after consuming nearly 30 cicadas. When he showed up to a clinic, he “sheepishly told a doctor he’d caught and ate the cicadas after sauteing them in butter with crushed garlic and basil,” according to the Associated Press. Doctors treated him with antihistamines and sent him home later that day. It turned out that the man had a shellfish allergy, which was a problem because cicadas are a distant relative of shrimp and lobsters. Earlier this month, as cicada recipes popped up across the internet, the FDA warned people with seafood allergies to keep the bugs off their plate.

[Read: Restaurants have a new problem, and it has red eyes and is super loud]

Sometimes cicada hijinks get downright absurd. In 1987, two men burst into a Cincinnati restaurant and thrust a single cicada at the cashier. Grossed out by the bug, she fled. When she returned, she found that the register was missing $25. So far, this year has had no reports of cicada incidents quite that wild, and the window is closing. The insects are already dying off, their long-awaited task complete, and in early July, Brood X will disappear once again. The eggs they burrowed into tree branches will eventually transform into nymphs and fall to the ground, beginning their journey into the depths for their own 17-year wait. We will file away the absurd stories from our shared existence this summer, ready to resurface them during the next emergence, when—if history is any indication—new hijinks are bound to happen. The cycle—theirs, a loud act of survival; ours, a loud act of trying to swat them away—will continue.

Some of us might try to ask future generations to learn from our mistakes; in 1970, after students at a Baltimore school were bombarded by cicadas during their outdoor graduation ceremony, the headmistress wrote a letter to future school officials—“To whom it may concern in June 1987,” it began—asking them to keep things indoors next time. If this summer’s frazzled drivers could warn people in 2038, they’d probably advise them to roll up their windows.

This article was originally published in The Atlantic. Sign up for its newsletter.

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.