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Close-up of a cicada on a tree trunk as the rest of its brood are blurred in the background.

This cicada is part of a large brood that emerged around a tree Wednesday in Western Springs.

Jim Vondruska/For the Sun-Times

As cicadas emerge, nature lovers travel thousands of miles to converge on Illinois

For tourists, Illinois is the place to be for the historic cicada emergence. The 17-year brood in the state’s northern half and the 13-year brood in the southern part are set to converge near Springfield.

When scheduling a girls’ trip to Chicago with her younger cousin, Kat McHenry planned what any Chicago tourist would: Comparing deep dish pizza at Pequod’s and Lou Malnati’s, exploring at the Field Museum, and seeing the city’s sights.

But one item on their itinerary stood out. They got matching tattoos — of cicadas.

The emergence of periodical cicadas that rise from underground every 17 years to sing, mate and die was the main reason the Monterey, California, resident and her aspiring entomologist cousin came to the Windy City.

“What really drew me to the trip and brought me joy was getting to share it with her and ... inspire her to be a part of the sciences, to be interested in the subject and push her a little bit on her journey towards her schooling,” McHenry said.

And they’re not the only ones. Other nature lovers are coming to Illinois from near and far to see the double brood emergence. The two breeding groups of cicadas that each emerge every 13 or 17 years will coincide for the first time since 1803, covering more than a dozen states.

Illinois is the place to be for the historic emergence. The 17-year cicadas will mainly cover the northern half of the state while the 13-year cicadas are centered mostly in the southern part, and the two are set to converge near Springfield.

“Illinois is kind of the hotbed for [cicada tourism] right now because there are a few counties, more in central Illinois, that would [have] potential overlap areas where you would get both,” said Teri Guill of Carrollton, Texas, who is planning to visit Chicago next week with her 13-year-old niece.

Maxim André Goddard, his partner, Anna, and his baby daughter, Alexandria, pose for an upward-looking selfie with blossoming trees in the background.

Maxim André Goddard, center, plans to come to the Chicago area with his partner, Anna, and daughter, Alexandria, to see the 17-year cicadas during their historic emergence.

Provided

For Maxim André Goddard, the natural phenomenon is reason enough to make the trek from Montreal to Chicago with his partner and daughter. The family is planning to come to the area this weekend, hoping to spend time enjoying the city but also venturing out to see the cicadas.

“It’s something that you rarely get to see, so you should take the opportunity to go and see it,” he said.

Goddard, 47, entertained the thought of his 1-year-old daughter coming back to the area when she’s 18 to see the cicadas’ next emergence.

“That would be amazing, if she could be there again for that occurrence,” he said. “When she’s older ... that would just be phenomenal.”

Dave Odd, who leads Eat the Neighborhood foraging tours, said he led an expedition Sunday that wasn’t related to cicadas in Oak Park, but visitors from Japan joined it because they wanted to see the insects. The group found some cicadas, which Odd fried up for the tourists to try. In June, he’s hosting a cicada event at his Beaverville homestead.

Ellyn Fortino, a spokesperson for Morton Arboretum, said curious travelers from Seattle, Alberta, Montreal, Washington state, Tennessee and Buffalo, New York, and other areas, have visited or called to say they’re coming to see cicadas.

Two of those visitors were McHenry and her 22-year-old cousin Maddy McKee, who rented a car to visit the arboretum in Lisle. The pair spotted a small group of cicadas in the grass and trees, picking them up and carrying them around. Wanting to see more, McHenry then posted on Facebook to ask fellow cicada lovers where to go. The Californians hit the cicada jackpot in Downers Grove at the suggestion of some Facebook users.

“That’s where we really started to see them en masse climbing up on the trees all over the place, flying around, making a lot of noise, which was what we expected to see for sure,” McHenry said.

McHenry, 34, has worked as a marine biologist and has traveled to experience natural phenomena firsthand. She went to Indianapolis last month to see the total solar eclipse. Seeing natural phenomena has always delighted her, she said, but this trip had extra meaning.

“My greatest joy was to be able to share [the experience] with my cousin,” McHenry said.

Guill, 41, is also looking to have a similar bonding moment with her niece. It’ll be Guill’s second cicada-centric trip this year, after seeing the 13-year insects recently in St. Louis. In 2021, she saw Brood X in Washington, D.C. But the self-described nature lover made those first two trips alone. For this one, she’ll share the experience.

“In her young mind, some of the coolest things that she’s seen before have been watching an annual cicada molt on the side of the house and being able to watch the creatures that exist around her too,” Guill said of her niece.

The first order of business when they arrive is a visit to the Insect Asylum to check out the museum and pick up Cicada Parade-a statues to decorate themselves and leave one behind on display in the city.

Last time Matt Prusak saw periodical cicadas, he was 10 years old and had just moved to Tinley Park. He and a friend who lived nearby found a white cicada that they buried in a tin can. He remembered the insects flying around, so he had missed the emerging stage.

“Cicadas are so friendly, I guess is the word, [and] that made me get interested in them because they’re very happy to just climb on top of you,” he said. “So I remember that really good summer.”

Now 26 , Prusak found out about a cicada emergence tour in Skokie on Sunday afternoon, so he and his partner made the two-hour round trip from Schererville, Indiana, to Lorel Park. The couple and their fellow tourists watched hundreds of them emerge.

Prusak’s experience with cicadas as a kid helped foster a longtime love of the insect. Seeing them again brings that love full circle, he said.

“It was really a nice closure on growing up, is a way I’ve been thinking about it,” he said. “I saw the end of it before and then I have lived for 17 years and seen ... the other half of it. So it feels like I finished the story of how cicadas work.”

For Guill, the cicadas’ song is what inspires awe.

“When you hear the small, tiny little creature that makes such a noise, it can honestly sound kind of otherworldly when you’re in the midst of it,” Guill said. “It just makes this really kind of otherworldly and amazing chorus that you really only have a chance to experience in this very short time window when these broods emerge.”

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