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The cicadas are coming! April 10, 2013

Posted by ourfriendben in gardening, homesteading, pets, wit and wisdom.
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Our friend Ben was delighted to read that the periodical 17-year cicadas, which have not been seen in our area since 1996, will be emerging from the ground when it warms sufficiently, probably in May, given our unnaturally cold spring here in scenic PA. Admittedly, most poeple wouldn’t be thrilled to hear that dozens, perhaps even millions of the fat, 1 1/2-inch-long, red-eyed creatures would be emerging from the ground like the risen dead. But our friend Ben has a huge, nostalgic fondness for these particular cicadas.

That’s because they don’t emerge from the ground as the winged, black-bodied, red-eyed, shrieking insects whose mating cacophany can reach jackhammer intensity as they compete for females. Instead, they emerge as beetle-like nymphs, climb trees, and molt their shells, leaving the intriguing empty shells still attached to the trees. Sort of like butterflies emerging from the chrysalis, but butterflies are a lot better looking and the chrysalis is a lot more boring.

It’s this nymphal shell that brings back our friend Ben’s fond nostalgia for cicadas. When I was a child, I wanted to grow up to be a naturalist, someone who knew everything about nature. And of course, that included insects. Those empty carapaces clinging to the trees intrigued me no end, especially when I discovered that they could easily be detached, but that their remnant claws would attach easily to other surfaces. Such as my younger sister’s and brother’s clothes. Let’s just say that they were by no means as enchanted by these cicada overcoats as I.

Sadly, this tendency to use the natural world’s discards to my own ends did not diminish over time. One year at summer camp, I discovered to my horror that dozens of toads had been run over in the parking lot and had dried into black, leathery effigies. I love toads, and was crushed (so to speak) by their demise. But I was also fascinated by their leathery remains, and pinned several to the camp’s official bulletin board, to the officials’ and fellow campers’ dismay. (The culprit was never identified.) Strangely, I have never seen another toad in this condition since, and still wonder why it happened then.

Anyway, I have to say that I’m looking forward to this year’s cicada emergence, at least from the point of view of attaching a few empty carapaces to Silence Dogood’s clothes. But there’s one thing I’m definitely not looking forward to, and it’s not the deafening screeching: The expert entomologist interviewed for the article noted that the slow-moving cicadas are prey to everything from birds and squirrels to dogs and people.

Say what? Rip their legs and wings off and fry them up or sautee them, and you’ll have a high-fat, high-protein snack. Thanks, but no thanks. Unfortunately, dogs don’t rip their legs and wings off, they just wolf them down whole, as many as they can. And then, according to the researcher, they throw up and immediately wolf down more.

Our friend Ben can see our black German shepherd, Shiloh, intent on this very quest. I can also see Silence’s reaction when various cicada parts were spewed up in our house. To say that this would not go well would be to say that the Titanic encountered a small ice cube. I’ll have to try hard to make sure that no cicadas are consumed by Shiloh during their emergence.

For those of you who might be facing a cicada emergence but don’t have a dog-related issue with same, here’s what the experts say: You may not love the big, fat, red-eyed cicadas, but they’re pretty much harmless. The only real damage they can do is when the females lay eggs by ripping up branches to insert their egg masses. They particularly target fruit trees, so if you have any, cover them with bird netting for the couple of weeks when the cicadas are active. And by all means, crank up the volume on your boom box.

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