This is not like 1987 or 2004 when the 17-year cicadas’ incessant buzz drowned out ambulance sirens, and their carcasses crunched everywhere underfoot. According to Gene Kritsky, an entomologist at the College of Mount St. Joseph in Cincinnati, the cicada’s ubiquity has ensured its longevity: “If you’ve ever been in the midst of a big emergence, you see literally everything eating them: raccoons, birds, dogs, cats. It’s like walking outside and the whole place is being inundated with flying Hershey’s kisses. . . . Everything can eat their fill of them and there’s still millions left.”
Twelve different broods or cohorts emerge on staggered seventeen-year cycles. And there are three other broods that return every thirteen years. 2013’s seventeen-year brood has emerged mostly along the Eastern Seaboard, though as I write this, the Hoosier state’s smaller cohort of male cicadas has revved up the tymbals under their wings to make that rhythmic racket so compelling to the female of the species.
The Latin name ‘Magicicada’ derives from the insect’s Sleeping Beauty lifecycle. After living underground for seventeen years, they begin to emerge when the ground temperature hits 64 degrees Fahrenheit in their scheduled year. They climb up trees or bushes, split their outside shell and presto! A large, red-eyed bug will slip out and take flight. The males crank up their percussive call, the females answer with a click, and they lay their eggs in branches. According to Mike McGrath on the Gardens Alive website, the “rice-sized babies will drop and burrow deep, feed slowly on roots,” and then will begin the cycle again 17 years later.
What would it be like to seize the day after such a long period of dormancy? Anne Haines, web content specialist for Indiana University Libraries in Bloomington, takes up that question in her wonderful poem below.
Periodical cicada (Magicicada septendecim)
They’re here already,
the tiny mounds appearing around trees
at the edges of Dunn’s Woods,
hundreds of thousands per acre,
the seventeen-year cicadas.
What kind of life is it,
dark and dormant in dark soil,
weathering seventeen winters
and emerging? I imagine
seventeen years of my own shed
dreams, the crisp brown husk of them,
hard translucent covering over the eyes,
the split down the back where the bug
escapes, fat as a congratulatory cigar,
green-black and shining,
singing, alive in all the trees,
alive enough to balance out, in one
hot summer, that seventeen-year sleep.
This poem originally appeared in And Know This Place: Poetry of Indiana, ed. Jenny Kander and C.E. Greer, Indianapolis: Indiana Historical Society Press, 2011.