CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC – They’ve been referred to as a ‘metal storm’ and ‘the black cloud of death,’ but what may sound to some like an extreme weather pattern is actually something much more frightening. According to the World Health Organization, a colony consisting of more than one billion Africanized cicadas is terrorizing the world’s second largest continent.
There are currently more than thirteen hundred different types of cicadas on earth with many species existing since at least 1558 B.C. However, according to leading entomologists working in Africa and parts of Australia, a new breed of cicadas, commonly referred to as the Africanized Cicadidae, pose a significant and imminent threat to the world’s ecosystems.
Last month the South Sudanese government reported that a swarm of nearly four million Africanized Cicadas brought down two commercial airliners shortly after they took off from Juba Airport. Unlike other more well-known species of cicada, the Africanized species has a hardened exoskeleton that serves as a permanent suit of armor, protecting it from extreme weather and predators. According to the South Sudan News Agency, a “dense cloud of insects” flew into the jets’ engines causing them to explode mid-flight. In all, seven hundred and thirty-six passengers and crew perished.
“This is not something to be taken lightly,” said Dr. Jens Larsen. “These are essentially fifty caliber bullets with wings.” Dr. Larsen, who heads the World Health Organization’s Incident Response Team, said Africanized Cicadas can travel at speeds of up to eighty-five kilometers an hour and have been known to penetrate car windshields and windows with surprising ease.
“Entire villages have been wiped out by this species of cicada,” Dr. Larsen said, adding that officials initially believed many victims had been executed by anti-government forces but subsequent autopsies revealed that the Africanized insects had quite literally “dive-bombed” their targets, killing many of them instantly. “Due to their unusually hardened exterior, this species is very capable of punching through a person’s chest cavity or skull with alarming force.”
According to the WHO, the Africanized Cicada has killed more than 21,800 people in Sub Saharan Africa since 2015. Now, officials say, the killer insects are migrating west towards Central America. “Probably the most surprising aspect about the Africanized Cicada is its unique ability to mate and reproduce mid-flight,” Dr. Larsen said. “This presents a serious problem in that their numbers have the potential to triple or even quadruple by the time they reach the Central American mainland.”
To make matters worse, Africanized Cicadas have proven to be highly resilient and are immune to most pesticides and other forms of repellent. “According to what we’ve seen, and what we’ve been told by the Sudan People’s Liberation Army, direct exposure to fire is the only viable method for killing these things,” Dr. Larsen explained.
The World Health Organization on Sunday issued a regional alert for Central America and parts of the eastern United States advising government and public health officials to make preparations for a “worst-case scenario.” The WHO estimates that more than four billion Africanized Cicadas are expected to descend on the continental United States as early as June of this year.