Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Cicadian Rhythms

It's that time again. Locusts!

It's plague #8 if you're thinking biblically, but I prefer to view of the cicada arrival as the insect circus coming to town, complete with their own marching band of merry males making mighty mating music. Mmm.

Cicadas, it turns out, come in your run-of-the-mill annual variety (also called dog-day cicadas—which must not do much for their self image) and a periodical variety. It's the periodicals that get front page attention, and are the occasion for this blog. After years of dormancy an entire brood comes boiling out of the soil in a two-week rush, climbing all over everything and making quite a mess. Fortunately they don't bite (though they can visit considerable damage on young trees whose tender bark they slit in order to lay their eggs in preparation for the next cycle).

Interestingly, the periodicals come in both a 13-year and a 17-year flavor (the math major in me observes that both cycles are prime, but it's hard to imagine that these little fellers can even use calendars, much less do math—how do they all know when it's time to pop up?)

This year, we're blessed with the 13-year variety (not that I could tell them apart), and the air is filled with the cacophony of the male's chirring call. As the temperatures rise, so does the pitch and intensity of the song—to the point where it's hard to hear yourself think if you happen to be outdoors during daylight hours.

As it turns out, our 13-year manifestation in northeast Missouri is modest compared with the inundation they're experiencing in central Missouri. Sandhill member Trish was just outside St Louis for a co-counseling workshop last weekend and she reported that she couldn't walk outdoors at the retreat site without stepping on cicadas. They were literally everywhere. When she looked at trees, they appeared to be moving because of all the cicada traffic up and down the trunks. Now that's a showing. The engagement lasts for about five weeks, with performances daily. Right now we're smack in the middle of it.

Think of it as the entomological equivalent of a lemming migration—where the normal landscape is suddenly overwhelmed by one particular species showing up in untold abundance. Yeehah! It's one of Mother Nature's more quirky surprises and I enjoy the goofiness of it.

Next up for us in northeast Missouri is the 17-year brood, booked for a concert in 2014. Good seats are still available!

No comments: