Originally Published: June 17, 2013 6 a.m.
The wait is over! After a long, 17-year underground slumber, the cicadas have finally crawled out of their hiding places to have one big love-fest (or whatever insects do). Less than an inch long with red eyes, Brood II (as they are called) has arrived in the millions... yes maybe billions in a swath of about 900 miles along the East Coast. It is the largest emergence of insects anywhere in the world! Hey, these critters have been digging around in dirt and living off of tree roots for a very long time. They have been waiting patiently for the seventeenth year to roll around and when the ground temperatures hit a perfect 64 degrees, bingo, they wiggle up top to see what is happening. It must be a shock to them, to see the light of day and so many of their friends.
We humans cannot really imagine being alive, but in a comatose state for 17 years, only to wake up, have fun, have a whole lot of " bug love" and then die in two weeks. If we think about it too long, it boggles the mind. Better to ask a minister about the purpose of life than try to figure it out alone, because the cycle of cicadas seems too baffling. Fortunately, the cicadas don't carry diseases and are pretty harmless. Some people looking at their trees covered thick with them find it very disturbing, not to mention seeing thousands of their little empty exoskeletons scattered all over. Like miniature armor cast aside from some alien insect battle, they leave a trail behind.
Why are they so noisy? We have our own cicadas in the Prescott area that can make quite a racket. Distant cousins, I suppose, of the Eastern variety. To create their unique chorus, male cicadas contract tymbal membranes on their abdomens to produce sounds. Females (lacking tymbals) click and snap their wings. Hmm... seems like a whole lot of contracting, clicking and snapping is going on to make their deafening roar! One man in Maryland said he has to use earplugs just to survive a "night of constant shakes, rattles and rolls."
Well, nature is pretty amazing and thrilling to observe. My brother lives in Chagrin Falls, Ohio where the "oak beetles" invaded about five years ago. Seems the mayor of the town went home from work one day and found is entire house "encased in a black moving blob of insects." Out of a horror movie, uncertain what to do, he called the fire department hoping they could "hose the house off." He took a lot of heat for calling "911" when he saw his house under siege, but it was so creepy that even some of the firemen said they were "scared like girls" at what they were witnessing.
I had my own "bug experience" one time when I drove into a gas station on Carefree Hwy and 7th Street in Desert Hills. It had been "overtaken" by grasshoppers. Guess there was an open field next door and they just hopped on over to the gas station, causing patrons to scream, running for cover when they got out of their vehicles and realized grasshoppers were flying into their hair, jumping into their vehicles, smashing into their windshields. One woman ran around her car wildly yelling, "I have swallowed grasshoppers, help meeee!" Dear Readers, if you see an army of huge bugs do not open your mouth to talk, breath of holler. Only makes things worse! Instead, run!
I also encountered a scorpion up close and personal. I was new to living in Phoenix and was wrapping a grandson's birthday gift when I dropped some tan tissue paper on the floor. I picked up a little piece of it, only to realize I had a vicious, killer scorpion in my hand. Staring into its beady eyes, watching its stinger make a menacing arch, I screamed at it and dropped it immediately. Good news is I did not get stung. Bad news is that I dropped the little critter into one of my grandson's gift bags. My husband, Doug, came running to see who was murdering me, and saved the day. He found the scorpion, took him far away outside and said I probably scared the little beast to within an inch of his life. Yikes, it's a good thing that scorpions do not come out by the millions.
So we live in a "buggy world," as my youngest grandson points out. I think this means that all living creatures have a place and a purpose. Some of which remain mysterious. And thankfully, some of which are very distant. But as we get ready to enjoy our "Western cicadas" with their amazing chorus, we must be reminded of a 17-year slumber, a dazzling display of life emerging from the dirt we stand on, a constant clatter of "love" (bug love) which starts out as a whole lot of knee-knocking, tummy tucks, wing clapping and pure joy to be together. It's like the Woodstock of the insect world! Great music, huge crowd and lots of... well, you get the picture.
See an insect? Be amazed. Celebrate little wings, beating hearts, long waits, true love, procreation and all things weird and wonderful. And for a few blessed weeks, "love is in the air."
Judy Bluhm is a writer and a local realtor who lives in Skull Valley. Have a comment or a story? Email Judy at firstname.lastname@example.org.