science, spew

The Brood.

They're climbing the building!

“Don’t see a lot of your kind around here.”
“At these prices, you’re lucky to see any.”

Too bad if you missed them. They were worth seeing.

A remarkable horde of fascinating visitors to our neighborhood are dying off, having run through most of their brief life-cycle with a degree and quality of sound I’d normally attribute to heavy industrial machinery.

Ten days ago we marveled at the degree to which their nymph forms covered certain trees. Last week, we tried to avoid their adult forms as they fitfully crawled across sidewalks and shrubbery. Soon after, we had to duck as they capriciously flew from tree to brick wall to rain gutter. This week, we’re sadly avoiding the dead bodies of these beautiful, ephemeral creatures as the first wave of them begins to die.

Their sound was composed of several components; an understandable result of their population having been composed of several species (more background for the curious can be found here:

My first impression of the massed whirring noise they made was that of a 1964-era Star Trek phaser cannon, possibly boring into the side of a nearby mountain or Cayman Islands bank vault. A closer listen to a local stand of ancient trees which they seemed to favor revealed a secondary sound, which reminded me of thousands of tiny tambourines being shaken by thousands of underappreciated backup pop singers. I doubt my recording does any of this justice.

One visitor to our home-office window gave us our first performance of a component song. It was all exhilarating.


You should see the lawn flags we didn’t get a good picture of.

I can understand how homeowners with gardens might be upset at the consumption of some of their carefully-tended flora. But this will pass, unlike the more profound devastation wrought by the gypsy moth infestation of a previous decade.

We’ve been privileged to observe a remarkable event, a tiny slice of a big picture we don’t often get to see much of, and one which our forebears could only view with superstition and ignorant fear. We should revel in its novelty and celebrate the science it teaches us.

Farewell, Magicicada. Most of my neighbors — posh suburbanites who’d rather not deal with too much of the natural world or hear about where most of their food comes from — probably considered you a frightening, squishy pestilence. I did not. Hope I get to see you critters again.

A bit of science:

A few more of my images:


15 thoughts on “The Brood.

    • Moeskido says:

      Thank you, Greg.

      Update: we just opened our windows to find that, following a substantial bit of rain, there are still plenty of these critters out there, still flying around and firing that phaser cannon. So we’ve probably seen just the first wave of them dying off. I’ve amended my post to reflect that.

  1. Amazing. I think the sound would drive me crazy after about oh, thirty seconds, and I’m not too crazy about the flying around thing. But according to the maps, I’ll be able to get the full experience next year.

    The second sound byte was really…interesting.

    Nature is such a cool weird.

    • Moeskido says:

      I have tinnitus, so this cacophonous chorus is cake.

      They’re really beautiful in closeup. Great colors, especially the eyes.

      That second clip was right up next to one of the critters who stuck around long enough for me to shove a pocket recorder near his ass. I might go out again today; many of them are still around. I want to try to get a picture of the burrow holes some of them came out of near big-tree roots.

  2. Susan says:

    Having not experienced the cicadas, I enjoyed this thougtful and well-reported post.

    The second sound clip reminds me of what it sounds like when the cable company tests its emergency notification system. My parakeets didn’t like it, but they got over it quickly.

    • Moeskido says:

      Thanks, Susan. Just trying to convey how amazing this experience has been.

      Were your birds only slightly bigger (and not herbivores, of course), they might get a little hungry at the sound. 😉

  3. Kate A. says:

    Until you started mentioning these little beauties a few weeks ago I had them filed under ‘grasshopper’ (a creature that delighted me as a child and I now see only once in a great while). Extraordinary. Thank you for documenting their emergence so well. (The second sound clip is stunning.)

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