The Cicada: A Unique Natural Wonder

In the hottest times of the year and in many parts of the US, there is an unmistakable sound of nature. The incredible and intense, ear piercing roars that define the particular-“just right“-conditions for one species’ delight. A species which often emerge after the first rains of the “dog-days” of summer. 

They are the cicadas. My favorite insect of all time. 

When just the right amount of heat and moisture combine to re-saturate the native ground and stir them from their subterranean chambers, the cicadas begin a new part of their life’s journey. A journey towards complete transformation and a chance to pass on the continuation of their rather odd, and extremely radical legacy.

Often erroneously referred to as “locusts”, which are a type of grasshopper, cicadas belong to a completely different order (Homoptera) of insects, which undergo incomplete metamorphosis and skip a pupal/larval stage altogether. Instead they hatch as nymphs which look a lot like termites. In the beginning of their radical life cycle, immature cicada nymphs fall from the tree from which they hatch, burrow into the ground where they will inhabit a subterranean existence feeding on roots until their final emergence. Depending on the type of species of cicada, they will remain underground any where from 2 to 17 years. There are two main types of cicadas: annual and periodical cicadas. And a third, unusual type called Proto-periodicals. Their types indicate their different life-cycles.

Annual cicada species have annual, or near annual, life cycles and will emerge every year. Annual cicadas are often referred to as “dog-day cicadas” because they emerge during the long, hot summers. Some species considered “annuals” will emerge, not every year but perhaps every 2-5 years. Whereas, periodical cicada species emerge only after long periods of time, such as with the Magicicada septendecim which emerge remarkably every 17 years. Other species, such as the more commonly know Magicicada periodical, emerge every 13-17 years.

Cicadas’ unique and incredibly punctual life-cycles have intrigued naturalists all over the world for ages. Their unusual journeys have fascinated me since early childhood. As I grew older, I fell more in love with this natural oddity the more I learned about them and have considered them a unique natural wonder.

As a child, and still as an adult, I have collected countless cicada exuvia, the shedded exoskeleton they leave behind when they molt from their form called imagoes. As well as fully formed deceased adult specimens. The tendency for cicadas to emerge in often great numbers is one big reason for their generational successes. While fully transformed adults crawl around trees seeking a mate, they are inevitably easy prey for multiple critters including raccoons, rodents, cicada killer wasps, many species of birds and more.

As much and as long as I have loved cicadas, I have never witnessed their nightly emergence. Until now. 

Sitting under one of the trees in our yard, visiting with a friend one late night, my partner noticed some thing rustling across the grass between his bare feet. Like a taut spring suddenly freed, I sprang towards it. I immediately knew, but had to be sure! It was a cicada! I was overwhelmed by the thought of actually being able to watch this occurrence, since I had just shared some super cool facts about cicadas with my partner. Trying my best to justify just why my favorite insects are indeed so cool!

Of course, cicadas had already been calling for a while, but the short bouts of rain, and incredible dryness of the season made me doubt we’d see the same numbers of cicadas as before. 

I waited for the next night to make the effort to capture the moments of the cicadas incredibly short, terrestrial and eventual arboreal journeys. And so I did just that:

Capturing these moments was a giddy experience for me. Feeling incredibly honored to witness one of nature’s most unique, intimate moments, I had to restrain my many compulsive “gasps” of admiration while filming. It is truly a most striking, awe-inducing transformation. Enjoy.

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