This is the emergence month of Brood X of the 17-year periodical cicada, one of the largest swarms in the world, and my area is a hotspot. Brood X is pronounced “Brood Ten” if you’re acknowledging the Latin enumeration, or “Brood Ex” if the cicadas remind you of your ex – kinda dumb, clumsy, loud, with long periods of inactivity punctuated by bursts of intense focus on drinking and sex.
This will be the fourth emergence I’ve experienced, having been in the local area for every one since I was born. If you’d like an idea of the cicadas’ density at peak emergence, it works out to 25-30 per square foot – although mostly they’re not underfoot until they die; instead they’re looking for vertical surfaces like trees to land on, drink sap, and find a mate for sexytimes. Vertical surfaces may include cars, utility poles, the sides of buildings, and your face (cicadas are not devoting their limited lifespan and intellect to finding the perfect tree.)
The males will start mating songs that reach up to 100 decibels. “That’s the sound of a chain-saw, a lawn mower, a jet overhead.”
Last time around, in 2004, the girls were in grade school and deeply freaked out by the cicadas, which have an unfortunate habit of flying right at you and getting tangled in your hair. Also, they’re about the size of my thumb. I find the whole thing pretty cool, to be honest. They’re so present and prolific and so loud. My Maine kid was not thrilled to find herself here for a move scheduled for peak cicada, but that’s the way it worked out. And for what it’s worth, cicada aficionados (not just entomologists) travel here from all over the country to experience it, the way people travel to see a solar eclipse or some other natural wonder.
Here’s a fabulous quote from a Washington Post article that perfectly describes their varying calls (there are actually three species involved): “The song of the first species sounds like a flying saucer landing from a 1950s science fiction movie… the middle species sounds like someone took water and threw it into hot oil. The third one sounds like an angry squirrel.”
If you’d like to get a sense of their decibel level, here’s a link to a YouTube video of Tiger Woods at a golf tournament in 2004 in Ohio. Just listen to that ambient noise!
I’m glad I’m here for peak cicada, even though it’s inconvenient and I’m 100% sure that when my stuff arrives in Santa Fe eventually and gets offloaded, there will be stowaways. Cicadas are potent symbols in many cultures — personal change, renewal, rebirth, and transformation among them. All that seems fitting as I prepare to embark on my next chapter in life. See you soon.