Faced with cicadas, D.C.-area residents take shelter from the swarm

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A cicada lands on a Chive plant in Shepherd Park. (Photo courtesy of Emily Kahan)

Emily Kahan was walking to the library with her son last week, when a cicada flew at his face. 

“It flew right into his mouth,” she said. 


He spit the insect out and kept walking. But three minutes later, another cicada landed on his shirt. 

Kahan said her three children weren’t fond of cicadas before Brood X emerged over the last few weeks, but they “now hate them.”

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After 17 years underground, cicadas have returned with an annoying, if harmless, vengeance. The large winged bugs have crawled into sidewalk crevices, buildings, trees and gardens, leaving their shells and carcasses everywhere. 

Shepherd Park resident Jeff Mendelsohn was at a funeral in Annapolis when the cicadas started to swarm. 


“They were there on the chairs. They were in our hair. They were on our clothes. They were buzzing around everywhere,” he said. 

One cicada crawled underneath Mendelsohn’s collar and made a loud screeching sound. He said he remained calm and flicked the cicada away. He marvels at how “amazing” the sound was. But he felt bad for the mourners. 

“People were giving meaningful, somber speeches and these cicadas were just flying around and landing on people,” he said. “It was distracting at a somber moment.”

Rabbah Arlene Berger hates all things cicada, from the live cicadas that land on her to the littering of cicada carcasses.

“I shriek and flap my arms to get it off of me and then I walk very fast in the opposite direction that I was coming from,” said Berger, the rabbi at Fauquier Jewish Congregation in Warrenton and Hevrat Shalom in Rockville. 

She calls her home in Aspen Hill “cicada central.”

“We were infested to the point that every morning, my husband would have to go out with a leaf blower because we couldn’t get out the front door,” said Berger. 

Kahan said near her home in Shepherd Park, the cicadas have also been “overwhelming.” 

“They’re super loud. You can’t go outside without getting whacked, they fly right into you,” said Kahan. 

Her family has started walking in the middle of the street in their neighborhood to avoid crunching the copious amounts of cicadas on the sidewalk, she said. 

Even so, she finds Brood X “kind of magical.”

“This is my first real experience with them,” said Kahan, who was in Boston when the cicadas last appeared 17 years ago.

“We try to be environmentally conscious,” Kahan added. “There are a lot of benefits that they bring, and that’s kind of neat to watch.” 

Sari Carp, the executive director of Sustainability Matters, a Virginia-based, conservation nonprofit agrees. 

“They provide this incredible amount of formerly living nutrients that will go back into the soil and nourish the soil,” she said. 

Carp added that cicadas also provide food for birds, farm animals, dogs and cats. This can be extremely helpful for birds.

“They can be deeply annoying to humans but it’s an awesome phenomenon and it only comes once every 17 years,” said Carp. “We’re encouraging people to try not to freak out too much, and to enjoy it while they can.” 

Daniel Braune-Friedman of Aspen Hill is doing exactly that. He said he really likes the cicadas. 

“I think it’s really interesting how we care about them a little more than we might care about a smaller insect,” he said.  

Braune-Friedman said his children had very different reactions to the cicadas. While his son is more interested in seeing how many cicadas he can count, his daughter picks them up, holds them and even gives them names. 

“This is a twice in a lifetime, three times in a lifetime kind of thing. So it’s really great,” he said. 

Kemp Mill resident Jeff Adler says the bugs are “fascinating to watch.”

“It’s amazing to see God’s nature at work every 17 years,” he said. I don’t get too grossed out by it. I mean, I’m really marveled at the whole process.”

Even those who are not so fond of the brood say they are learning life lessons throughout the experience. 

Berger said she has mentioned cicadas at least five times in her services and explained that patience is just one of the things cicadas have taught her. 

“You never know, until you experience it, how you’re going to react to something,” she said. I’ve tried to deal with my reaction to cicadas in a very logical way as if I were my own therapist. It hasn’t worked very well, but I tried.” 

See also: Cicadas are edible. But are they kosher?

 

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