The 17 Year Cicadas
moultano Creator of ns_shiva.Members, NS1 Playtester, Contributor, Constellation, NS2 Playtester, Squad Five Blue, Reinforced - Shadow, WC 2013 - Gold, NS2 Community Developer, Pistachionauts Join Date: 2002-12-14 Member: 10806Posts: 4,219 Advanced user
edited May 2004 in Off-Topic
They have finally arrivedThis (as any Cincinnatian has been hearing in the local press ad nauseum) is the year of the return of the 17 year cicadas. In the next few months, five billion of them will come out of the ground in the greater Cincinnati area to have constant sex and then die in droves. I have a few memories of the last time they came to Cincinnati: feeding them to our 13 inch fish, collecting their carapaces off of the bark. I remember them mostly as a blurry image of noise and darting black bodies up among the trees. I also remember running shrieking back into the house after one landed squarely on the back of my neck and started buzzing. I was three years old at the time, and while cicadas are pretty big normally, they seem a lot bigger to a three year old. Ironically, I've been looking forward to their return ever since.
Cicadas spend most of their lives as grubs digging tunnels underground and eating tree roots. Then after 17 years in the dark, they wait until the ground warms up and a strong rain loosens the topsoil, and then emerge. They come out of the ground in their nymph stage. They are about an inch and a half long, with a light brown translucent carapace. They are also unspeakably cute. They crawl along slowly, they are very soft and fat, and as far as animals go they are infinitely trusting.
They finally began to emerge today after the rain. Several started crawling up my legs as I stood barefoot in the dirt. Their little claws are designed to be strong enough to support their fat bodies while they go through the next phase of their development and are well suited for climbing up just about anything. There was a continuous parade of them marching up the trunks of the trees. All told, there were probably several hundred in my front yard alone.
It's an interesting feeling having a dozen baby cicadas all agree that you, in fact, are a tree. They tickle. I spent about an hour playing with them and carrying them out of places where they are likely to get stepped on or run over. This was all pretty incredible, but the real magic didn't begin until the sun went down.
Once the nymph cicadas are out of the ground and have gotten sufficiently high on whatever plant they happen to emerge next to, they dig their claws in and park themselves securely. Their shells then split open and a fragile pale white adult cicada emerges. The entire process from the time they come out of the ground to the time they become a fully functional cicada takes about six hours. I had hoped to see this happening at some point, but I had no idea how impressive it would be.
Its probably hard to imagine, but a cicada emerging from its shell is incredibly beautiful, especially at night. They sit suspended by their abdomens from their shells, their white wings wet and crumpled, their bodies ivory and still. Slowly their soft fresh legs strengthen and grasp their shells, and they pull the rest of their damp bodies out into the air. Their wings unfurl in perfectly symmetrical patterns and pulsate as blood begins to awaken them. Their red eyes shimmer. They remain perfectly still clinging to their old carapaces as their diaphanous wings and delicate bodies dry, white shadows among the leaves. Slowly their bodies darken, their wings turn orange, and eventually they fly off. Imagine this process taking place over several hours with tiny invisible movements. Now imagine hundreds of them hidden among the trees and plants doing it in unison.
My mom and I sat outside with the flashlight for several hours watching them and taking pictures. This was without question the most beautiful natural event I have ever seen.
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