Saturday, September 27, 2008

Creepy Crawly

A 17-year cicada chilling on the sidewalk

Remember a couple of weeks ago when I thought it would be a good idea to walk home and I discovered this? Well, the same walk resulted in me taking this picture of a 17-year cyclical cicada. If you've ever lived east of the Mississippi or in the South, you know about these guys. They make a chirping mating call that is enigmatic of summer in humid climates. The sultry heat, combined with the slow, crescendo sawing of these critters, creates an ambiance that isn't found in the western part of the U.S. (Not that that's necessarily a bad thing, mind you.)

This little guy was sitting smack in the middle of the sidewalk, so I took his picture. They're freaky lookin' bugs, but kind of cool, too. Every 17 years, they come out of their homes in numbers that make the population of China look tiny and they breed like bunnies. Over the next 17 years, they slowly die out and their mating call diminishes each summer. Then, on year 17, those that remain get together and party like it's 1999. They're so prolific and active, the air literally buzzes non-stop with their unique chirp and they can be seen flying through the air in numbers you don't see in the intervening years.

Frankly, it's like being in the middle of a biblical plague. But in a cool way! It's only been three or four years since the last cycle, so it's not uncommon to see these guys on the ground or to find their molted skins clinging to fences, trees, bumpers, window screens, and so forth.

Photo copyright: D.C. Confidential, 08/08

14 comments:

NG said...

Ah... I remember fondly during the last cicada cycle when all the radio stations had to issue the advisory, "When you are driving on the Beltway, please do not swerve your vehicle to avoid the cicadas." I'm embarrassed for my people.

D.C. Confidential said...

NG: I had one land on the window frame of my driver's side door one day while I was zooming up Connecticut Ave to Olney. He was facing forward and I could see him perfectly in my side view mirror. I almost crashed the car, I was so fascinated with him and his big, red googly eyes.

I'm the people the radio was talking about...

Virginia said...

And I presume you got a signed release from this guy to take his photo and plaster it all over the internet for the world to see? Hmmmmmmmm?

PS Cool cicada facts. I didn't know any of that. Don't tell all my former students though.

NG said...

Hey, I think I was behind you on Connecticut that day!

janeannechovy said...

What made you think it's a 17-year cicada? It's not their year to emerge (wasn't it 2004?). I'm also pretty sure they don't live long (certainly not through a winter) after mating and laying their eggs. I think it's more likely this is an annual cicada which only just recently emerged and molted.

Either way, they're pretty cool bugs!

Tash said...

I love their chirping sound. Facsinating info.

D.C. Confidential said...

Virginia: I did not. :-( Shame on me.


NG: I wondered who that crazy lookin' woman yelling at me was. Sorry for swerving into your lane. Obviously, I was distracted!


JA: There are several broods of cyclical cicadas in the year that emerge in 17 year cycles. I'm not sure which brood this particular one belongs to. The ones that came out in 2003 were Brood XIV. I'm not an entomologist, but my understanding is that over a 17 year period cicadas breed regularly, but for some reason they breed prolifically every 17 years. Here's a link to some good information on cyclical cicadas.


Tash: They do have an interesting chirp, don't they?

janeannechovy said...

Nice link, J. Reading it made me even more sure that your picture is not a 17-year cicada! They emerge in May/June and are only above ground for a month or so to mate and lay their eggs before kicking it. Annual ("dog-day") cicadas come out in July/August, and would therefore be winding down about now.

Sorry to be such a noodge on this.

D.C. Confidential said...

JA: Well, everyone needs a hobby, right? ;-)

I learned a lot reading that bit, too.

Maya said...

Is this different than a regular Cicada? I know we have those in AZ. We actually had a Christmas tree one year that had a bunch of the leftover molted shells still on the tree. It was a source of nightmares for my young mind at the time!

D.C. Confidential said...

Maya: There's like fifty bajillion varieties of cicadas. I suppose on some level the cicadas in Arizona are "regular" in the sense that they're germane to Arizona...

And speaking of Arizona, I didn't know they had cicadas! I thought cicadas only lived in humid climates. Well, I learned something new today!

NG said...

@Maya: I grew up in AZ too and we had cicadas but everyone called them "locusts." I never knew what a cicada was until I came here. Oh and as kids, we took the skins and wore them like jewelry. They would stick to your clothing like velcro. So... I probably would have been the kid that tortured you with them. Sorry.

Maya said...

d.c.: I had no idea there were so many kinds! I guess there isn't a "regular" type then.

ng: Yikes! Good thing I didn't know you when I was a kid! ;-)

D.C. Confidential said...

Maya: Me neither! When I think of locusts, I think of crickets. (Comes from growing up in Utah and hearing the "Miracle of the Seagulls" and how they consumed vast quantities of invading crickets that were hellbent on destroying the Mormons' crops that year. In light of this new knowledge, I'm now wondering if the offending species were actually cicadas???)

And wouldn't it be cool if, in fact, you and NG did know each other growing up? Well, maybe not from the cicada standpoint, but from the it's-a-small-world standpoint it would be. You're both very cool people, so it's totally possible you know! :-)