We've been stationed in the DC area three times now, and if my memory is correct, we had the pleasure of periodic cicadas during two of those occasions. Now, we are preparing to share air space with them again.
The latest phenomenon is called Brood X. They are scheduled to crawl out of the ground any day, and once they do, it will be a little like what I imagine when I hear of those Biblical plagues of old. Gigantic houseflies EVERYWHERE. Except they aren't as nimble as houseflies, on the contrary they seem rather stupid. They will literally fly into your face like they have no idea where they are supposed to go. Apparently those gigantic red eyes don't work very well.
Can you tell I'm not a huge fan of these cicadas? In Provence they are celebrated as part of the harvest culture. I have a pieces of French pottery that includes a cicada resting on the handle of a small pitcher, and it's cute. Cicadas sing in chorus a chorus of millions as they rest in trees, a gentle whirring sound that many associate with summer.
But here in the DC region, they don't just sing in the trees, and there aren't just millions of them. We will encounter billions of them. They will swarm in the trees with an effect on branches that amounts to pruning. They will mate. And then they will die. Their carcasses will rot, their molted husks will litter the ground like a tide of miniature autumn leaves. It will be impossible to walk without crunching cicadas under foot, either alive, dead, or dried out as a shell.
Of course what doesn't kill us makes us stronger, right? So looking on the bright side, here are some reasons to appreciate Brood X:
1. They help thin trees by sucking sap from small branches.
2. Their bodies deliver a massive dose nutrients to the soil.
3. They demonstrate a physiological state called Torpor, which could be a key to sending astronauts long distances in space. (I wrote about this recently for Muse.)
4. Most kids find them fascinating. Most dogs and cats find them to be delicious.
That's all I can muster for now. I wish I could find that video I took back in -- was it 2012? -- showing a Cicada-killer wasp thrashing about on our back deck with a cicada in its grasp. Actually, it was a bit violent, so maybe better not to show that here. I'll leave you with this video instead.
Photo and text copyright held by Brittany Moya del Pino, all rights reserved. (2021)
I write about curious phenomena around us. I also write about people who are passionate about their careers, hobbies, or life experiences related to science. This blog chronicles my journey.
©Brittany Moya del Pino 2021. All rights reserved.