5.12.2011

They're Baaack!

© shoutingforha

Anyone living here in Middle Tennessee will know exactly what I'm talking about.  For those of you from out of state, I'm talking about the 13-year Cicada.  Cute little guys aren't they?  I know it's hard to tell from the picture, but this one is about the size of my thumb.

Growing up in Colorado, I was never really around that many bugs.  Sure we had the usual flies, bees, ants, spiders, grasshoppers, mosquitoes and the swarm of moths that appeared each summer, but nothing could have prepared me for the plague of Cicadas that inundate Tennessee every thirteen years.  

© shoutingforha

I'm not exaggerating.  It really is a plague of Biblical proportions... A "Pharaoh, let my people go" kind-of plague.  During the next six weeks, millions of these creepy bugs will rise from their earthly slumber in order to mate. 

My first interaction with Cicadas, specifically Brood XIX as they are known, was in May of 1998.  I was midway through my fourth year living in Tennessee.  Friends and acquaintances began to warn me about these strange insects but, to be honest, I thought they were overreacting.  Boy, was I wrong.

© shoutingforha

The Cicada nymphs wake from their underground slumber once the ground temperature reaches 70 degrees.  Sometime after dark, the nymphs burrow out of the earth and make their way up the trunks of trees looking for a suitable place to molt.  Within hours the adults emerge and begin to mate.  

Females lay their eggs in the pencil-sized branches of trees and shrubs.  Approximately 6-7 weeks later, the eggs hatch.  The Cicada nymphs drop from the trees and burrow into the ground in search of tree roots.  There they will feed and slumber for another thirteen years and the cycle will start all over again.

The empty skins left after the nymphs molt.
© shoutingforha

While the Cicadas are completely harmless, they can be a bit of a nuisance.  The males "sing" in order to attract a mate.  Honestly, I have no idea why anyone would call it singing.  To my ears it sounds more like a horrible and unrelenting screeching sound.  So much for quite afternoons spent outdoors.  

As you might guess, the Cicada mating call has an adverse effect on the human population.  Say for instance, hypothetically speaking of course, that you want to mow your massive lawn.  As you push or ride your mower around the yard, swarms of male Cicadas will dive-bomb you thinking that you might be an attractive lady Cicada in disguise.  Your screams of terror will only attract more suitors.

The only sensible thing to do in that instance is to call your favorite yard man and allow him to take over the mowing duties.  Have I mentioned how much I love my yard man?

© shoutingforha

In addition to the noise, the Cicadas attach themselves to the underside of nearly every tree branch.  Here in Tennessee, that's a ton of trees.  It can become somewhat perilous to get out of your car or go for a walk without having to duck to avoid getting the nasty things caught in your hair.

Mercifully, the Cicadas have a very short life span of just 5-6 weeks.  By mid June, the mating and egg laying will be complete and the Cicadas will all be dead.  Adults and children will all do a little happy dance and then promptly make plans to be out of town in another thirteen years. 

Empty skins and dead adults found just one day after the Cicadas appeared.
© shoutingforha

It was so bad in 1998 that I can remember driving down I-65 and watching the dead carcasses blow across the road just like fall leaves blowing in a car commercial. Isn't that a lovely picture?

For the time being, I'm going to steer clear of low hanging branches and try to avoid using heavy machinery or screaming when outdoors.  It's the least I can do.  The poor little creatures have been waiting for over a decade to make their grand appearance.  I wouldn't want to spoil all their fun.

2 comment(s). Leave yours!:

gretchen from lifenut said... Best Blogger Tips

My goodness. That's fascinating, disturbing, disgusting. Thank God it's a 13-year cycle. Your son will be a grown adult by the time they appear again. Wild!

We get off easily in CO, I think. Bugwise.

mshike said... Best Blogger Tips

And boy are they REALLY noisy in OUR neighborhood!! :)

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