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beverly neighborhood cicadas

Cicadas nearly ruined prom for Kimberly Henderson’s daughter. The insects have taken over her property in the Beverly neighborhood. The family doesn’t use the front door anymore.

Juanpablo Ramirez-Franco/WBEZ

Cicadas were mostly quiet in Chicago, but a real buzzkill for a few city residents

From nearly ruining prom night to making a terrified woman an internet sensation, cicadas are still having an impact on a few Chicago neighborhoods.

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Across the street from Kimberly Henderson’s home in Chicago’s Beverly neighborhood, a milky-white cicada leaned back out of its exoskeleton and molted. In about three hours it wiggled into full-fledged adulthood and joined the thousands of cicadas that threatened to ruin her daughter’s prom send-off.

“We were frantic. We can’t do a send-off with cicadas everywhere,” Henderson said a couple of weeks ago. “We’ve had cicadas before, but never this. Then one day it was like our house was under siege.”

She pointed to her garden of perennials, her plants dotted with cicadas — maybe one on every other leaf. Her trees were crawling with them. Her lawn and garage were completely taken over. For the past several weeks her family had stopped using the front door altogether, surrendering it to the insects.

And the sound, she said, was deafening.

“It was worse than this too,” Henderson said of the all encompassing hum almost drowning out her voice. In massive numbers, a chorus of cicadas thrumming can blow past about 100 decibels —- the sound equivalent of a jet taking off.

Her husband’s leaf blower and seagulls ended up saving prom. The birds circled and swirled down on the Henderson property to eat the cicada carcasses even though Beverly is more than 20 minutes away from Lake Michigan. A recent study found their suddenly booming numbers are akin to a protein-packed all-you-can-eat-buffet for at least 80 bird species.

Over a trillion cicadas are said to have poured out of the earth across the Midwest and Southeast over the past several weeks. These are called periodical cicadas, unlike their annual cousins that emerge later and bookend the summer. These creatures emerge in 13-year and 17-year cycles depending on the brood. This year was supposed to be special: For the first time in more than 200 years two broods emerged at the same time and in a sliver of central Illinois side-by-side.

In Chicago, it’s possible to drive from one end of the city to the other and never see or even hear a cicada, except in certain pockets where nature has persisted. Jim Louderman, an entomologist and collections assistant in the Field Museum’s Gantz Family Collection Center, puts it simply: when the old trees disappear, so too do the cicadas.

“Almost every tree in Chicago has been cut down, and then replanted,” Louderman said. That’s a problem for cicadas because when a tree hosting cicada nymphs is cut down, the nymphs that rely on the sap from the tree’s root will die along with it.”

So “cicadapocalypse” has arrived in the suburbs, but not the city. Edgebrook, on the northern edge of the city, is where resident Emi Sneed got 14 million views on a cicada video.

In a recent TikTok video posted by Sneed, she had just gotten home from work and won’t get out of her car. Cicadas are everywhere. She’s crying, scared, and doesn’t know what to do besides throw on a paper bag with a giant hole to keep them out of her face.

Watching it now, Sneed laughs. “If you look at peoples’ search bars ‘cicada girl in car,’ that’s my claim to fame — I’m so embarrassed,” she said.

Cicadas are still crawling around her yard and house, but she says now they’re mostly in the trees. Just the right distance for her to be able to appreciate them.

“Even though things are gross, things are also pretty incredible and kind of a miracle,” Sneed said. “That something like a cicada can be buried for 17 years and then rebirth, It’s crazy.”

cicada

A cicada is emerging from its nymph exoskeleton on tree in Beverly. In the span of seven hours, it’s new tough exterior and pair of wings take shape.

Juanpablo Ramirez-Franco/WBEZ

Despite her newfound appreciation for the cicadas, she’s still counting the days until they’re gone. By her count, it should be a couple more weeks, as the periodical cicadas only last between four to six weeks.

But they won’t really be gone though. In Edgebrook, like in Beverly, they’ll still be here. Millions and millions will be living underground, biding their time just waiting to crash another prom or go viral on the internet in another 17 years.

Juanpablo Ramirez-Franco covers climate change and the environment for WBEZ and Grist. Follow him on X at @__juanpab.

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‘Like any self-respecting American, I’m going to deep fry them in a little beer batter. Anything’s good in garlic butter, right?’ said Geoff Marshall, a cicada fan who cooked up the insects for his friends.