Sunday, July 11, 2010

Caught in the act

Admittedly, I know very little about cicadas. I know a little about the emergence cycles and tried not to think about how many millions of the 13-year-cycle cicadas never emerged a couple of years ago following the last 10 years of rampant development in America.

I know that I am grateful that my well-established neighborhood is home to lots of big, old trees and hearty populations of katydids and cicadas. But for the rumbling of the car engine across the street, living in my unair-conditioned bungalow in summer months is much like camping. Of course, I recognize that the cicadas in my Columbia yard are surely not the same species as the cicadas in pine woodlands of Louisiana or even in the Ozarks, and that cicada experts like the talented Ted MacRae can tell all 16 Missouri species apart(because he himself discovered a couple new species living in Missouri last year). I doubt that the cicadas in my overdeveloped town are rare, endemic or anything like that. In fact, I suspect they're pretty common throughout cities, but I don't care about all of that, because their summer chorus is lovely, and it is always sad when November rolls around and the only song comes from a lonely cricket stuck in my basement.

Yesterday I checked in every few minutes as a cicada emerged from his little compact brown shell (surely called something else, something scientific-ish) attached to an ageratum in my frontyard. When I first found him, the wings hadn't unfurled yet, and they looked like the early stages of a Hen-of-the-woods mushroom: knobby, waxy, and thick.


Utterly fascinating. Just as I love watching my dart frogs molt (they look like little aliens eating their own skin, and so shiny afterwards), I was transfixed by the cicada. The translucent green wings finally fell open about 10 minutes later. The cicada stayed attached to the leaf for the rest of the afternoon. A remarkably elegant, infinitely beautiful creature.

6 comments:

Ted C. MacRae said...

I remember the first time I saw this happen - I was just a kid, maybe 9 or 10 years old, and I thought it was the most amazing thing I'd ever seen. That might have been "one of those moments" that prompted me to my eventual chosen profession.

Tibicen sp. - there are several species of these so-called "dog day cicadas."

Allison Vaughn said...

I haven't seen this since I was a kid--they were everywhere in Louisiana. Isn't it gorgeous? One response I had to these photos was "that is so gross," and another was, "oh, ick."

There's not an embroidery thread ever made that can match the color of the wings--even more brilliant than a luna moth.

Elizabeth said...

Love your pictures! As a child, I collected the shells, as well as dead "locusts", as I've always called them, but have never seen this. I'd like to print them out to send to my young nieces and nephew, who also hunt for these things at my house, if that's okay. Thanks!

Nathan said...

The wings ARE spectacular, Allison. Do you remember the pencil drawing I did of a cicada for my art class with Dr. Bryant in 1991? I've found them fascinating since then, though I must admit that during the summer that several cycles overlapped and southern Indiana was an epicenter of cicada density, I found their dive-bombing while I mowed more than a little disconcerting...

Allison Vaughn said...

We used to gather as many cicada molts as possible and then attach them to our church clothes. My mom never freaked out about it, but people at church didn't really like it. Glad you liked them and feel free to print them off...
The gourds are beautiful! I haven't carved holes in them yet, but will soon and will send photos!

Allison Vaughn said...

Nathan! Of course I remember the cicada drawings. Everything you sketched and painted was just exquisite;I hope you find time to be creative these days.
Did I ever tell you about the cicada who hung out on my porch when I lived in Southeast Missouri? He would make this awful noise every time I opened the door, scare me to bits, and made Molly bark until he flew away. Not sure why he liked the porch so much (blaring hot sun, no water, no plants, just hot CCA treated wood, I'm sure), but he stayed there every night for a whole summer, disgruntled when I would go outside to listen for owls. Any insect that big needs respect.