Incredible Cicada Video Shows Brood X Bug Emerging From Exoskeleton in Maryland

A park ranger has captured incredible time-lapse footage of a periodical cicada emerging from its exoskeleton in Maryland's Catoctin Mountain Park.

Periodical cicadas are seven species from the genus Magicicada, which emerge every 13 or 17 years in North America.

The cicadas that have emerged in parts of the eastern U.S. and Midwest this year are referred to collectively as "Brood X."

Periodical cicadas spend most of their lives underground as nymphs—a juvenile phase in their lifecycles.

After spending 13 or 17 years below the soil—the time period differs between species—the insects crawl out of the earth, immediately try to find a tree (or another vertical surface) and molt, transforming into their adult phase. During this part of their life cycle, the cicadas mate and lay eggs.

Molting refers to the process of the insects shedding their hard exoskeleton. The time-lapse video footage, published by the Catoctin Mountain Park, shows this process.

"Molts are the insect 'skin' that cicadas shed or leave behind when they become adults," Nancy Troyano, an entomologist and director of operations education and training for Ehrlich Pest Control, told Prevention.

"Beneath their skin, they are growing their wings and their adult body," she said.
"Insects do not stretch to enlarge, they actually grow a new exoskeleton beneath their current one."

"Because the exoskeleton is hard, it prevents insects from growing so they must molt the 'skin' to continue to develop," Angela Tucker, an entomologist and technical manager for pest control company Terminix, told Prevention.

For periodical cicadas, the process of molting can take one or two hours depending on the humidity, which is relatively slow compared to many other insects.

Once the cicadas have shed their nymph skin, their new adult body and wings will be exposed, making them vulnerable to predators.

"The wings will inflate with fluid and expand, and their new skin will harden—which typically takes several days," Troyano said.

On occasion, some cicadas become stuck in their nymphal skins during the molting process, according to Cicada Mania. A whole range of factors may contribute to this happening, including the wrong temperature, rain, or wind conditions; interference from other cicadas or other insects like ants; or issues with the cicada itself.

Cicadas that become stuck in their nymph exoskeletons tend to die stuck to the spot where they attempted to shed their skins.

Of the billions and billions of cicadas that rise up out of the ground, a small percentage will be infected with the psychoactive fungus, Massospora cicadina, which contains one of the same active ingredients as magic mushrooms—psilocybin.

The bizarre parasitic fungus hijacks the brains of the insects, manipulating them so that they try and mate like crazy.

A periodical cicada
A periodical cicada is clinging to its discarded nymph skin in the final stage of molting before the hardening of the new exosceleton in Rock Creek Park in Washington, D.C. on May 19, 2021. EVA HAMBACH/AFP via Getty Images