AMERICA'S east coast is bracing itself for "Swarmageddon" as hordes of flying insects emerge from underground.
After 17 years underground growing from larva to bug, billions of cicadas are about to take to the air for the final four weeks of their unusual life cycle.
They will then embark on a noisy, short-lived adult life in pursuit of a mate. Males flex their tymbals, drum-like organs in their abdomens, making a distinctive clicking sound. Female cicadas answer by snapping their wings.
The ear-splitting chorus can reach 90 decibels – comparable to a pneumatic drill. After the females lay their eggs, the parents soon expire. The eggs hatch later in the year and the young fall to the ground and burrow down, not be to seen – or heard from – for another 17 years.
Cicadas have already emerged in southern states. But the great – and for some gross – encounter between man and insect in America's most populous region, the 900-mile north-east corridor that runs from Washington through Philadelphia and New York to Boston, is expected to begin by the end of this month or early June.
The bugs cover trees, shrubbery, house facades, even car tyres. They are benign, if intrusive creatures – they do not sting, bite or harm crops. Even so, for some, it will be seen as a plague of biblical proportions. Veterans of previous invasions are planning to flee to the beach or the cities – cicada-unfriendly terrain.
Other broods emerge on different geographic 17-year cycles in the eastern US, including the one that swamped Washington in 2004. In a memorable moment, captured by photographers, President George W Bush was pursued up the steps to Air Force One by a cicada. Swarmageddon is prompting advice ranging from investing in noise-reducing earphones to not mowing the lawn during the day, as cicadas can mistake the sound for mating calls.
Other advice includes eating them. Jenna Jadin, an entomologist who wrote the cookbook Cicada-Licious, collected recipes that include soft-shelled cicadas, cicada dumplings, cicada stir-fry and sizzling cicadas. (© Daily Telegraph, London)