Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The Omnious Sound Of ...

Tonight marked the early signs of the cicadas. There were a few out and making their droning racket as Molly and I braved the heat to go walking. Cicadas always amaze me. Years underground and then a metamorphosis followed by a short but intense life above ground. I always wondered about the poor cicadas who aren't synchronized to the same n year cycle as the masses. I suspect they feel like the unpopular kids in school: they know there is something they are missing but aren't quite sure what.

Cicada nymphs burrow underground and feed on sap from plant roots. The length of time they spend in this subterranean existence varies from 2 to 17 years, depending on the species.

When they are ready to become adults, the nymphs tunnel to the surface and crawl up on the side of the nearest object. Then the skin splits down the middle of their back and they emerge to inflate and dry their wings. This is done at night. So by day, one often spots the dried husks sitting empty on branches and trunks:

The winged adults fly around a bit, but spend most of their time sitting on trees and vertical surfaces. The males make the tremendous droning noises trying to attract the females. In the winged adult state, they look like this:

I'm not sure if this is the year of the mass emergence of the locals or if there will be but a few stragglers. I remember some years ago when L and I had just started up a new company and we had our newly hired marketing director out here in the boonies doing a corporate branding and imaging exercise. The meeting was in August and the cicadas were in full throat. The drone during the day was loud enough to drown out conversation as we walked on the sidewalk. Nanette, our new marketing director, had never heard cicadas before. When she inquired what the noise was, we showed her a few in the trees and some husks on the ground. It scared her enough that she was unwilling to spend much time outdoors after that. She thought the sound was horrifying; we thought it was a normal part of summer.

So what do you think? Scary or neat? (If you have never heard a cicada, you can visit the Cicadas of Michigan site to hear recordings of ten of the species native to Michigan)


  1. Ah, cicadas. I highly dislike them. It is impossible to escape them here in Japan. They are everywhere. They are so loud and obnoxious and so incredibly big and ugly. ick.

  2. Sorry that I'm such a wimp. I have to vote on the scary side :)

  3. And I have always loved the sound of the cicadas.
    But they remind me of youthful days on the farm and the cicadas were high in the trees singing in the evenings.

  4. I don't think they're scary and I fluctuate on if I find their music annoying or not. If I'm in a good mood, it's nice to hear them but if I'm annoyed and just want some quiet? Not so much. They're definitely interesting little things, though.

  5. I've never experienced them firsthand and I have a feeling I would be completely freaked out.

  6. Definitely neat. The kids and I hunt cicada shells just to scare mom with.

  7. Scary and weird. The only time I saw them I was 5 years old and at my sister's college graduation in Maryland.

    They were crunchy and I was 5 so I was full of mixed emotions.

  8. It's interesting but I hate them anyhow! They're SO loud. Last time I went to Arlington cemetery, they were everywhere! They were hitting people on the head and littering the walkways and it was MAD!


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