Discovery's live cicada cam puts you in the heart of Brood X country

Buzz off, cicada-FOMO.

Leslie Katz Former Culture Editor
Leslie Katz led a team that explored the intersection of tech and culture, plus all manner of awe-inspiring science, from space to AI and archaeology. When she's not smithing words, she's probably playing online word games, tending to her garden or referring to herself in the third person.
  • Third place film critic, 2021 LA Press Club National Arts & Entertainment Journalism Awards
Leslie Katz
2 min read
cicadas in grass

Cicadas in the grass in Louisville, Kentucky. 

Erin Carson/CNET

Yesterday, a CNET co-worker in Louisville, Kentucky, described a chorus of cicadas buzzing outside her window. The most insect action I usually get here in San Francisco, on the other hand, is the bee or two I spot outside my home office window. Yeah, I'm feeling pretty left out as trillions of Brood X bugs descend on the Eastern US for the first time since 2004. 

Thankfully, Discovery has launched a 24-hour live cicada cam to ease the cicada-FOMO of those of us fascinated by this natural insect phenomenon but not situated in Brood X country.  

The cam, available on YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and the Discovery site, is broadcasting from Alexandria, Virginia. Yesterday, it was trained on a tree full of nymphal exoskeletons left behind by the insects after they climb up from underground, inflate their wings and start getting busy making babies. ("C'mon, somebody shake a leaf," one bored YouTube commenter wrote.) The action isn't much more exciting today, but it picks up at night, with night vision cameras there to catch it.  

In the meantime, the bugs' loud mating calls -- occasionally punctuated by a bird calling or a dog barking -- make for mesmerizing white noise. 

In case you haven't been keeping up with cicadapalooza 2021, periodical cicadas spend almost their whole lives beneath the ground, living on sap from tree roots. Then, in the spring of their 13th or 17th year, depending on the type, they tunnel out, synchronously and in huge numbers, for a brief (and extremely loud) adult mating frenzy.  It's thought that so many periodical cicadas emerge at once so enough can evade predators and live on to mate and start the cycle all over again. 

Brood X, also called the Great Eastern Brood, is one of the biggest broods of 17-year cicadas, and this year it's showing up en masse in 15 states, plus Washington, DC. The last time Brood X emerged, George W. Bush was president, the final episode of Friends had just aired, and Mark Zuckerberg had launched Thefacebook, Facebook's precursor, only months before. 

Discovery's cicada livestream will be active until Sunday, May 30 at 8 p.m. PT. After that, it's back to Netflix for most of us. Except if you're my co-worker in Louisville, who's about to head straight into the insect scrum with a couple of entomologists for some serious cicada close-ups. Stay tuned. 

Brood X cicada emergence in photos: How it looks as trillions of bugs appear

See all photos