Cicada cacophony

May 8, 2011 at 2:53 pm 2 comments

By Dee Reid

I woke to a vaguely familiar white noise.  Not unlike the monotonous hum of high-speed rush-hour traffic. Or what it might sound like if all of the neighbors fired up their leaf blowers at the same time. But this was Saturday; rush hour was long gone. We live in the woods on the edge of a small town.  And few of our neighbors wield leaf blowers.

I opened the back door and recoiled at the racket:  Who had the nerve to disturb the peace of our rural paradise? Could you guys turn down the volume, please?

Then I remembered: It was time for the 13-year cicadas to return.  Magicicadas, Brood XIX to be precise.

Actually they have been here all along and they mean us no harm. Their crazed parents mated in 1998, amidst a cacophony that we at first thought meant bull dozers were heading down our driveway. Their eggs were deposited, and the little ones have been incubating inconspicuously as “nymphs” ever since.

Brood XIX apparently got the memo over the week-end that it was time to claw out of their holes, bust free of their shells, find their own mates, and, well, get it on — all part of the mysterious cycle of their mysterious existence.  In their case: Have babies, then die.

Puzzle solved, we got on with our day, noting the skeletal casings of insect-shaped “cocoons” everywhere — deck, patio, porches, yard, driveway, garden. Check. They even crawled through the clay surface of a backyard tennis court in town.

We marveled at the decibels. I heard them in the morning while biking to the market in Pittsboro. I could still hear them back at our place after lunch even while Brian was mowing the pasture.

Soon the hum of their mating call faded into the background of our rural routine. We forgot they were there, just as we had while they hibernated politely underground for more than a decade.

After a family dinner our eldest granddaughter — Ryan, 5 — suggested a game of outdoor hide-and-seek. She and I would find a perfect hiding place and wait to be discovered.

Ryan and I raced to the giant beech tree about 50 feet from the patio. Just as we were ready to tuck our bodies against the tree’s far side, we noticed the bark seemed to be moving. Oh dear. Hundreds of cicadas were dragging their crispy tan shells up the tree. Holy locusts. They were evacuating a hole at the base of the trunk, teeming out like a rowdy arena crowd following a soccer match.  (Indeed this crowd was almost as noisy as the South African fans at the World Cup last summer, and they’re just getting cranked up.)

We looked up. Shadows on every single leaf revealed twitchy cicadas perched for the mating dance.  We looked around — most of the other trees were also completely infested by this population explosion.

Soon insects were dropping at  our feet. We knelt to inspect these strange creatures: orange beady eyes, giant wings. Fierce determination.

We found ourselves on the lot of a science-fiction movie: Night of the Living Dead meets Them.

But instead of being frightened, Ryan was fascinated.  “They’re everywhere,” she laughed.

Yep. They’re back, big time. And these pre-teen bugs are ready to boogie. Anybody seen my earplugs?

–Learn more and check out a video here.

Entry filed under: Commentary. Tags: , , .

‘Big Spoon’ Nutty Butters Behind every successful chef…

2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. John Bonitz  |  May 8, 2011 at 4:56 pm

    Aww, Dee, you tease me! A blog about sustainable grub and you didn’t so much as mention that cicadas are edible?

    My E tells a story of her days teaching ESL in TN, where on the playground one day during a brood event, one of her students started filling his pockets with cicadas. E asked the boy why he was gathering them and he said his mom would be so pleased to prepare the bugs for supper that night!

    Local wild-crafter and herbalist Will Endres has taught a class at CCCC on edible bugs. If I’d seen the Beech tree crawlin with pre-molt cicadas, I’d have had to restrain myself from collecting a pound or two to experiment with in the kitchen. Fried in butter sounds like a place to start.

    I wonder if there are any recipes online…

    Oh I’m so disappointed, Dee!

    • 2. Sustainable Grub  |  May 8, 2011 at 8:29 pm

      And I hear they have plenty of protein, too. I bet you can find a few in Chatham Forest.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Trackback this post  |  Subscribe to the comments via RSS Feed

Latest Tweets

Error: Twitter did not respond. Please wait a few minutes and refresh this page.

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 53 other followers



%d bloggers like this: