The cicadas are coming!
You can hear them starting up already. That alien-sounding buzz, especially when it’s hot, is the sound of 17-year-cicadas which most people call 17-year-locusts. As Extension Horticulture Technician Barbara Leach points out in this week’s May 10 print issue of the Salem Times-Register, locusts are more like grasshoppers.
They come out in different broods, depending on the geographic area. And if you live on land that was cut, filled and houses built on since the last brood, you might not periodic cicadas, period. After all, for just about all of their lives the cicadas live an underground existence.
I remember 2003, the last time the cicadas emerged in the western part of Roanoke County including Little Brushy where we live on the north side facing Fort Lewis Mountain. Here is the column I wrote about them the first week of June that year:
“The locusts are coming.
Well, more specifically, the 17-year cicadas. They’ve been crawling out of their dime-sized holes in the ground for a couple of weeks now. By summer, we’ll all be tired of their alien ray-gun hum – or maybe not, if the temperature doesn’t reach above 80 degrees. They don’t tune up fully until the temperature reaches that magic mark.
I stopped to take photographs of a couple of males last week. I knew they were males because they didn’t have the forked ovipositors females do on their derrieres, to put it politely.
You might not have these big buggers at your house yet, but they’ve certainly crawled out on Little Brushy Mountain. Come to think of it, I haven’t heard their noise anywhere else.
By the time they appear, cicadas have spent 17 years in the ground as big, fat, white grubs, about three times bigger than Japanese beetle grubs. You’ve probably uncovered them while digging, without knowing what they were.
I’m not sure what brood this crop of cicadas is. We didn’t live here 17 years ago but we did witness a bumper crop of them almost 25 years ago in Amherst County.
Our youngest, Haley, was 13 months old; Meredith was 2-1/2 going on 40 and Rex had just turned 4. We spent a lot of time playing and sitting outside.
So did the cicadas.
We watched them crawl out of their split shells, dry their wings over several hours and start humming. Cicadas don’t bite and are easy to pick up and inspect. Their bright orange eyes and orange-laced transparent wings against black bodies make perfect Halloween coloring.
We held them almost eye to eye and Rex found out how to disgust his sisters by chasing them with the shells left behind.
Females would saw V shapes into small branches, deposit eggs and eventually, die in enormous numbers. The white ant-sized larvae drop out of the trees and burrow into the ground, starting the cycle all over again.
After a few weeks, anybody could tell where the cicadas had been. The last 8-10 inches of young branches turned brown from where the cicadas saws had done their job.
What I remember as a kid was that it was hard to sleep once the 17-year-locusts came out at the same time as a whole woods full of katydids. They sang all night long.
I was about 11, and was having a spend-the-night-party at our house in DeKalb County, Ga., near Atlanta. Not everybody had central air-conditioning, and we were sleeping upstairs. You just haven’t met hot until you’ve tried to sleep on a humid Georgia July night when the air just isn’t moving.
Anyway, we were supposed to sleep but you know how that is if you’ve been a little girl or had one. After innumerable card games of Blackjack, at least half of us were still awake, annoyed by the insects’ noise and miserably warm. I think somebody went home because she couldn’t sleep. Even pillows over our ears couldn’t shut out the songs of “Katy did, Katy didn’t, She did, She didn’t.”
Who knows if my parents got any rest.
But one thing is for sure, the cicadas didn’t, and neither did the katydids. God willing they don’t all tune up at once this summer here.”