Brides Bugging Out Over May-June Cicada Invasion

Hillary Mayell
for National Geographic News
April 21, 2004

You've dreamed forever of the perfect outdoor June wedding. You can see yourself gliding down a grassy aisle, a gentle breeze wafting the skirts of the perfect gown, guitars strumming, friends and family gathered under a gorgeous blue sky, listening raptly as you recite the vows you and your beloved spent weeks crafting.

Now conjure up an alternate scenario, one that takes into account the fact that this year, billions of cicadas emerge in mid-May.

You're walking down the grassy aisle, being dive-bombed by sex-crazed cicadas looking for mates. Your guests look like human windmills, flailing at the flying insects. Those weeks spent writing special vows? Lost in the cacophony of male cicadas "singing" to attract females.

With populations numbering in the hundreds of thousands in some locales, "it could be loud enough not to be able to hear the preacher," said Gene Kritsky, a biologist and cicada expert at the College of Mount St. Joseph in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Timing, of course, is everything. Maybe you plan your outdoor wedding for late June, when most of the cicadas will be dead or dying.

Instead of gliding down the aisle, you crunch down it, tromping on piles of dead bug bodies. And if you're really unlucky or cut the timing too fine, there's the smell of millions of rotting bug carcasses, which, at it's worst, Kritsky said, resembles something akin to bad limburger cheese.

"None of the brides I'm working with have opted to do an outdoor wedding in May or June this year," said Joyce Smith, owner of Weddings Unlimited, Inc., in Cincinnati. "I can't imagine a bride flitting around with all that netting and getting bugs caught in it. And the bugs are gross-looking. I've lived through one of these, and I remember it."

Wedding Plan Alert

The average length of an engagement in the U.S. is 12 months, according to a survey conducted last fall by Bridal Guide, a widely read bimonthly magazine for brides. The average cost of a wedding is around U.S. $20,000, and many venues must be booked nine months to a year in advance.

The Brood X (Brood Ten) cicada population—the one that erupts this year in the eastern U.S.—is particularly far flung; emergences are expected in 15 states. But the Brood X cicadas only come out once every 17 years. Who was thinking cicadas a year ago?

"We never mentioned the 17-year cicada cycle to readers," said Diane Forden, editor-in-chief of Bridal Guide. "I don't think there was enough awareness about it months ago for us to caution them about not planning an outdoor wedding in an area where the cicadas could be swarming. However, it is something to keep in mind 17 years from now."

"The first thing you do if you're planning an outdoor wedding is check your online resources: the Farmer's Almanac and Find out what they have to say," said Sharon Naylor, author of 23 wedding books. "You also have to check for when bug season occurs. Destination marriages are popular now, and some of these places have bugs the size of flying mice."

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