Keep Things Hot, and the 17-Year Cicadas Won’t Disappoint

Entering the small grove of trees, with a string backpack resting lightly in the small of my back, I was looking forward to spending the afternoon relaxing in my hammock, with a book loaded onto my kindle and a cold drink in my water bottle. There was a good chance I’d be napping soon. I’m not a napper, except in my hammock. After riding close to 20 miles that morning, I was open to the idea of a nap.

When I was fully into the small grove of trees, digging my hammock out of the backpack, I noticed a distinct hum, a buzzing that seemed to come from every direction. Reaching my arms around a nearby tree, to secure the strap that would support the hammock, I saw a large bug crawling, slowly, along the bark. 

He didn’t appear to be in any hurry. He took a few steps, rested for a while, changed his direction just slightly, and continued, at a marginally different angle and pace. It was my first Ohio sighting of a 2021 Brood X Cicada.

Then I looked up. High in the trees, the branches and vibrant summer leaves were alive with the erratic movement of hundreds of cicadas; perhaps there were thousands! 

Despite the noise, I hung my hammock and settled in, cradled by the sturdy fabric that always reminds me of skydiving parachutes and hot air balloons, with its vibrant colors and tear-resistance. I knew immediately that I wasn’t going to get much reading done, and a nap was unlikely, as fascinated as I was by the way the cicadas danced in the treetops. 

This wasn’t my first cicada experience. I’ve lived through enough cicada cycles to know what to expect. There’s the pulsing chorus of noise. I’ll always remember the hollow shells the bugs leave behind, when the newly emerged nymph sheds – molting one last time after climbing vertically into a backyard tree. Then there’s the occasional fly-by that startles you out of your summertime daze.  

With that said, until today I didn’t know much about what the lifecycle of a cicada entails. This mystery had never been the subject of a childhood report or college research study. During the last emergence, 17 years ago, I was not as well trained to “Google” subjects that I was curious about, to learn more. (Google was just 9 years old back then, and not the entity it is today, back in 2004.) 

It’s no secret that the Midwest, and select areas to the south and east, were abuzz (pun intended) with an awareness that 2021 was the year that Brood X would make another appearance, after 17 years underground. (USA Today) 

Cicada nymphs crawl their way up to the earth’s surface, digging through the dirt, the clay, and the muck. They emerge and head directly to shrubs, bushes, and trees, climbing higher. 

Clinging to this flora, their outer “shell” splits down the back as the pale pinkish-white nymph inside pushes and expands, ready to break loose, ready to transform into its adult form. The creature that emerges resembles an albino, with its signature red eyes. Just a few hours will further transform it into an adult cicada, with its bluish black and orange body and translucent wings. (The Washington Post

In just a few days they will be ready to fly, ready to send their unique call (the males), and ready to mate. It’s a short life on the surface. The females lay eggs in tree branches, which hatch a few weeks later and fall to the ground. They claw their way into the earth, where they spend the next 17 years. Incredible! 

Several weeks prior I was visiting Antietam National Battlefield, in Maryland, on an unseasonably cold day, not thinking about the cicadas one bit. We saw a farmhouse where Clara Barton brought supplies and aid to the wounded. A memorial to her efforts included a red cross made of brick, from the chimney of her childhood home. 

We walked the expansive site, gazing across the rolling hills, trying to grasp all that had happened on this historic site. It was overcast, but there was no rain in the forecast. Again, the cicadas were the furthest thing from my mind, but not for long. . . . . . The visitor center and museum were being renovated, so we were on the driving tour, pulling over at every stop, reading about the bloodiest single day in American military history. 

It was Memorial Day, and the dark skies suited the mood of the location, and the gravity of the history that was made there. One stop was marked as the start of Bloody Lane Trail, so we decided to hike for a bit. Not far along, I noticed holes in the ground, about the diameter of a small marble. I was puzzled, and mildly distracted from learning about this historical site. It slowly dawned on me that every one of the hundreds of holes at my feet, in the clay earth, was created by the emergence of a cicada nymph.  

We had seen our first cicadas, a bit earlier in the day, but there wasn’t a single bug to be seen (or heard) in this area. Still puzzled, I turned to the right side of the trail. I took a few steps, getting closer to the trees and bushes. I bent over, squinting a bit, looking closer, and there they were! There they ALL were, clinging to branches, gripping the tree trunks, tucked up under leaves. They were everywhere

But why so quiet? A little research confirms that it was the cold that was keeping the lid on the characteristic cicada noise. I’d known that the buggers wait for warm temperatures to emerge from the ground. Flying, calling, and mating are apparently also weather dependent. (Cicada Mania) 

That afternoon, I saw more cicadas than I ever have. They prepared me for the volume of bugs that would be waiting for me back home, once the critters made their appearance. There weren’t any in my backyard, but once I got out to Battelle Darby Metro Park, where I would hang my hammock, I’d get a earful. Seeing the cicadas at Antietam built up a bit of excitement, in anticipation that they really would be coming up from the ground back home, as promised.

Readers who are not living in cicada territory, who have never experienced this phenomenon, should know that I’m now convinced that experiencing their presence is definitely worth traveling for. Seriously – start making plans for 2038. (And please, if you have the opportunity, add Antietam to your travel itinerary one day. It’s an important, and difficult, part of our country’s history, worthy of the full day that I spent there.)

For those interested, I’ve included a link to some cicada recipes, below. I have not attempted to consume one of these bugs, and I hear that they are to be avoided if you have shellfish allergies, but some of the recipes look a bit tasty.

Join me on my next adventure, 

~ Kat 

Related Links: 

A cicada’s life (The Washington Post): The life cycle of a Brood X cicada – Washington Post 

About Google: How we started and where we are today – Google (about.google) 

Brood X 2021 Map (USA Today): Cicadas are on the way as Brood X prepares to swarm 15 states, DC (usatoday.com) 

Cicada Mania: Periodical cicada fun facts to help you survive a cicada invasion – Cicada Mania 

Cicada Recipes (National Geographic): Cicada Recipes: Bugs Are Low-Carb, Gluten-Free Food (nationalgeographic.com)

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