If you lived here, you'd know exactly what sound that is. For nearly a month now, we've been hearing it during the day and in the early evening. Once the sun goes down, the sound disappears into the night, about the time the frogs and crickets are tuning up for their orchestral song. But those of you who aren't fortunate enough to be blessed with these lumbering, flying, buzzing, singing insects, meet the cicada:
Cicadas became well-known most recently in 2004, when Brood X emerged in great numbers. This brood was a 17-year periodical cicada, which differs from the cicadas we have around here. Oh, some areas very close to us were invaded by them, but we live one county north of their range, and were spared.
I do remember the invasion, though. I flew by plane to Arkansas during that time, with a layover in Cincinnati. That leg of the flight was in a small plane and we disembarked on the tarmac. Walking up to the terminal entrance, it was quite apparent that cicadas had crawled out of the ground here in great numbers. You actually could have scooped them up with a shovel.
There are 13-year periodical cicadas, and the next emergence of these buggers will be in 2008, but we'll miss those, too. Cincinnati is very close to their range, so they may get blessed again. I would imagine there will be a year when both the 13- and 17-year broods emerge simultaneously. Heaven help Cincy.
The cicadas we get here are annual or 'dog-day' cicadas and they differ a bit in coloring and they're larger, at about two inches long. There are two- and five-year broods, but they're staggered, so some emerge every year and they never usually cause a problem.
They emerge from the ground during July and August and live for two to four weeks. Sometimes, if the weather has been wet around their emergence time (certainly not this year), they will build mud tubes that rise out of the ground about three to four inches to escape the saturated soil. These are sometimes mistaken for crayfish holes.
When they crawl out of the ground, they attach themselves to a vertical surface, usually a tree trunk and they crawl out of their skin, leaving it behind. The molt can be somewhat disconcerting if you come across it. Ghostly, sort of.
When I was a kid, we called these things locusts, but that's not what they are. Locusts are large brown grasshoppers, and we have those, too.
Folklore says that six weeks after you hear the first cicada will come the first frost. That may be true in some areas, but for us, sixty days seems to be the accepted time period associated with this. I heard the first cicada on July 3rd, which would put first frost at September 1st. While not impossible - look at when we had snow in the spring - it's not likely we'll be hit with a frost then, with an average first frost date of September 25th for us.
The cats like to chase the cicadas and eat them. They don't bite or sting and they aren't toxic to cats or dogs and sometimes they eat them in great numbers. People eat them, too. (Not this people.) Asians and Native Americans have been eating them for centuries and they're said to taste somewhat like asparagus or minty shrimp. Umm ... okay. They are arthropods, as are shrimp, so I guess that makes sense. I'm not about to taste test them, though.
I'm glad they provide entertainment and a treat for the cats, and I like hearing their "Ree-a-Ree-a-Ree!" because it's just one more thing that says it's summer.
Photo of cicada skin from Hilton Pond.