They started arriving like a huge invading army, numbering in the millions and billions; the US States began to fall, one after the other. Soon they had control of Washington DC and fifteen other Eastern States of the US. They were everywhere, enclosing huge trees and making loud noises, and then, they were gone, just like that and it was quiet again. What a marvel of nature and strangeness of life. After seventeen years of childhood inside of the earth, they get just a couple of weeks of open air and light—to grow into adults, play around, make noise, reproduce and then—well then the game’s over.
These are cicadas, specifically the brood X cicadas. There are more than 3000 species of cicadas in the world but today, we’ll specifically talk about brood X. These cicadas are an inch to an inch and a half in length and have a stout green or brown body with black markers. A cicada has five eyes—two conspicuous red colored eyes to see and three much smaller eyes to sense light. They have small antennas and two pairs of wings. The first pair of wings is longer than its body.
The cicadas spend seventeen years of their childhood in the roots of the trees. The nymphs are brown and look like adults. When the time comes, according to a well laid-out plan, they emerge from the earth together, at a specific temperature as if on a whistle. A nymph’s outer body is like a shell and when it discards it, a soft, albino adult cicada emerges. However, soon it changes color, and its body hardens. A male cicada has a sewing-thimble like organ to produce sound that it uses to attract females. Cicadas make a deep sound and when thousands of them sing together, it feels like a fighter jet flying overhead. Female cicadas cannot make the sound.
Male cicadas emerge first and are ready to mate as soon as females become available. Cicadas’ arrival is a good surprise for many animals. It is like a two-week long party for the birds; they hover around trees to feed on cicadas. Sometimes, I would sit outside to watch the circus—a bird chasing a flying cicada and the cicada dodging to escape its capture. Although every once in a while a cicada would escape, but frequently, the bird would win. Besides birds, squirrls, racoons, snakes, mice, rats, lizards, cats, dogs and even humans eat cicadas.
The fact that cicadas emerge in hugely large numbers is the main survival mechanism of this species. Many of them die immediately after emergence. Males die soon after they mate. Many cicada mothers get killed right after they lay eggs, never getting a chance to see their eggs hatch. But whatever it is, these cicadas make sure the world takes notice of them, even if for just two weeks.
They impact people’s daily lives. Here in Cincinnati a car accident was attributed to a cicada that entered the car’s open window and slapped on the driver’s face. The involved car was totaled. The US president, Joe Biden’s flight to Europe was delayed as cicadas entered the engine of the plane and they had to bring in another plane for his travel.
After the couple weeks’ intrusion and interruption, they return to earth, to be away from everyone’s eyes, only to reemerge after seventeen years.