Buzzzzz. Hummmmm. It’s been 17 years of quiet evenings since their last visit. Now millions of summertime invaders are causing a cacophonous ruckus in a segment of the northeastern United States. These big, noisy bugs won’t be around long—but don’t worry, they’ll be back.
A cicada is an insect with a fat body, large clear wings, and bulging red eyes. This fierce-looking critter doesn’t bite or sting. In fact, cicadas are harmless—except for their loud mating call. Male cicadas make the sound by vibrating membranes on their abdomens to attract females.
The noise made by just one male cicada can reach 90 decibels. That’s as loud as a kitchen blender. Imagine hundreds or thousands of blenders whirring at once. Cicadas often make so much noise that outdoor events like concerts must be postponed.
Scientists have been tracking 30 types of cicada for over 100 years. This year’s batch is known as Brood VIII, a type of periodical (appearing at intervals) cicada. Brood VIIIs emerge as white or gray, lumpy, crawling bugs from the ground every 17 years. They climb trees, walls, and other vertical objects where they freeze in place. Soon their outer coverings crack and a new creature emerges, leaving the hard shells behind. The cicada unfurls whisper-thin wings and flies around looking for a mate. It doesn’t have long to find one. Its above-ground lifespan is just five or six weeks.
The 17-year cicada is common only in the eastern half of the United States. This year’s appearance in May and June happened mostly in parts of Ohio, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia. In some places, so many periodical cicadas emerge that they actually break tree branches with their weight. As many as 1.5 million cicadas can crowd onto just one acre of trees.
Annual cicadas (appearing every year) are common farther west. These cicadas are larger than the 17-year variety. Their appearance doesn’t make news. Midwesterners are used to the daily rasping sound and the sight of their onion-skin-like shells.
God made every creature on Earth with a purpose. Scientists say cicadas aerate the ground as they dig upward, allowing plant roots to get more water. A female cicada lays eggs on tree branches. This kills some portion of the plant, providing natural pruning. And when the insects’ short lives are over? Their decaying carcasses inject nutrients into the soil.
Most humans don’t much appreciate the arrival of 17-year cicadas. However, many birds, squirrels, dogs, and cats enjoy cicada season. Dogs especially love the squishy, protein-filled morsels. Humans who eat cicadas claim the bugs taste like shrimp or asparagus. Yum! Yum?
How many are your works, O Lord! In wisdom you made them all; the Earth is full of your creatures. — Psalm 104:24