The Return of the Cicadas

Cicada by Yukie Chen from Pixabay

I guess this is kind of a nature and weather post about the coming summer of 2020. As the weather warms, the 17-year cicadas that have been named Brood IX are emerging. Reports are that they have already started appearing in parts of North Carolina, Virginia, and West Virginia.

I’ve written about these summer insects before but they are so interesting to me. As their name suggests, they appear above ground once every 17 years. All those years of life sheltering at home like us this year except they were nymphs in the dirt, sucking sap from tree roots.

How they know that the warm weather of their 17th year – sort of like the high school graduations that won’t happen this year – is the time to surface? It’s a wonderful mystery.

Then they climb some vertical surface, such as a tree or fence, and begin to shed their immature exoskeletons. You might be more familiar with the large bug that emerges but you have no doubt seen those discarded sci-fi exoskeletons.

They have a few months to fly, mate, and make their songs. To them it must be a sweet song and, at first, I like hearing the sound as it reminds me of summers past. But it’s a repetitive sound and after a few weeks, it’s more of an annoying ambient noise.

The adult cicadas die by the end of the summer. Just one season in the sunlight, like a variation on a Ray Bradbury story.

This 2020 Brood IX that is debuting is estimated to be about 1.5 million insects.

I could check the soil temperature here in Paradelle and when it gets to 64° F the first ones should be heading up to our part of the world. In years past, that has been mid-May around here in the mid-Atlantic, but the month has been cool this year. I had to cover my tomatoes, peppers, pumpkins and tender plants a few times this month because it went back done into the mid-30s. The cicadas have been waiting for 17 years, so they have no problem waiting a few more weeks.

Like mockingbirds, cicadas aren’t a threat to people. Atticus said that “Mockingbirds don’t do one thing but make music for us to enjoy… but sing their hearts out for us. That’s why it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.” A male chorus of cicadas looking for mates will sing their hearts out (it can reach up to 100 decibels which makes it about as loud as a car stereo blasting “Born to Be Wild” at full blast) but I don’t know that we would enjoy their summer song as much as a mockingbird’s song or Steppenwolf‘s summer classic.

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Ken Ronkowitz

A lifelong educator on and off the Internet. Random by design and predictably irrational. It's turtles all the way down. Dolce far niente.

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