The 17-year Cicadas are in Town

by julie swanson

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This is a life-size photo of one.

At first I wasn’t sure what it was I was hearing, or stepping on and sweeping up. What had Terminix done at our last treatment, I wondered, that so many of these  were dying and laying belly up all over around the outside of our house? First the stink bugs and now these, even bigger and noisier?

Then I began to hear other people talking about them, and I knew it wasn’t just our house, our woods.

Our area of Central Virginia is full of these things, big 1-1/2″  long and very plump flying bugs. Go outside and you hear the shrill scream of them loud and constant (except when it rains? and for a spell at night? You eventually become numb to the noise and forget they’re out there), almost like a motorcylce gang must be coming down the road–a distinctly different sound than the buzz of the cicadas other years. The woods just rings with them all up in the trees. It reminds me of the sound of peeper frogs that start making their droning noise every night on the lake where I grew up. I’ve heard the same noise on other lakes and ponds as well. Only this is a much louder, more intense sound, and it comes from high up in the trees. The interesting thing about them, as my son remarked the other night, is that they always sound like they’re “over there,” somewhere in the distance in one direction that you can sort of point to, and not right where you are, despite the fact that they’re all over and we’re surrounded by them.

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Their bodies are everywhere: on our porch, driveway, deck,…

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…floating in the pool, in the skimmers.  Their winged bodies, that is…

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Their molted bodies, the empty shells of the pre-wing “nymphs,” those are stuck to the underside of leaves on the trees, as you can see if you look look closely at this picture I took of a small dogwood in our yard. This one little dogwood had dozens of molten skeleton-bodies stuck to the underside of leaves.

Thankfully, they don’t sting or stink. (Yet? With so many dead and dying cicadas, will it start to stink?) They just make a lot of noise and then they lay there on their backs wiggling, getting slower and slower, and then dying. And if you don’t watch where you’re walking, they crunch.

At first, when I noticed them a week ago, I heard people talking about 17-year locusts (Locusts like in Little House on the Prairie, I wondered, eating everything in their path?!), but then I did a little research on them and found out that they are actually cicadas, and what the difference between them is. If interested, look here– http://archive.audubonmagazine.org/truenature/truenature0005.html.  

Very interesting creatures!

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