Seventeen Year Cicadas

 Seventeen Year Cicada, midway through transformation


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A few days ago, the hatch of Magicicada Brood II began here in Virginia. These are the periodic cicadas on a 17 year cycle. It’s pretty amazing how many there are. They’re everywhere.

They’ve only started tuning up on their “singing” – in another week the noise will be deafening. Almost literally. At close range, a cicada can pump out 120 decibals. That’s enough to do permanent damage to your hearing.





After dark, In unison the nymphs tunnel their way up from deep in the ground where they’ve been sucking on tree roots for nearly two decades. They immediately clamber up tree trunks, stones, houses, grass, and every other object that doesn’t move faster than they do. Then they take a firm grip with hooked forelimbs and wait. Over the course of a couple of hours, they transform, erupting out of their shells into big winged insects. Pale and fragile at first, their wings expand and harden, as does their new outer body shell. In the sunlight the next day, they darken to almost black and fly up into the trees. By the millions.






Last night I took a couple into the basement and set up the camera to take a timelapse of the transformation. Pretty wild.













Apparently, they’re pretty tasty. At least according to Bandit.

The last time these cicadas appeared, my daughters were in the first grade, and we had just moved to Scottsville. Clinton was President, on his way to a second term. Apple Computer was struggling to stay viable, and in an act of desperation bought NeXT Computer, and with it Steve Jobs. Cell phones were still as big as a shoe. Lady Diana divorced the Prince of Wales.

My, how time flies.












4 Replies to “Seventeen Year Cicadas”

  1. I am a journalist with DW, Germany’s international public broadcaster, in Berlin. I work for the online environment team and we are currently putting together a multimedia package about life underground. One creature we are featuring is the cicada and I was wondering if there is any chance of your letting us use 20 seconds from one of your incredible clips? We would be incredibly grateful.
    With many thanks in advance. I look forward to hearing from you.
    Tamsin Walker

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