The 17 Year Brood

Hello Friends! Tonight’s feature image is titled Cicada 61120a. The photos in this post were taken specifically for this post and not really the kind of photos I expect people to hang as decor. However, if someone is interested in licensing them as illustrations or using them in an educational situation then click on the image and it will take you to my contact page.

The late afternoon sun burns brightly in the southern sky as I cross the mountain and head towards the lake.

It not really I trip I was expecting to make this year but my forest has been strangely silent considering what year it is. I had been expecting a constent droning that would last several months. But the 17 year brood skipped my little area this year.

However, just a 15 minute drive to the lake and the noise is unmistakable.

To put the noise levels in perspective an average conversation will occur at around 60 decibels. A jackhammer produces around 90 decibels. Cicadas ring out at 100 decibels.

Why all the noise? Well in short, they’re love sick. The insects have spent the last 17 years underground tunneling and living on roots but now they are at the end of their lifecycle and ready to make the next generation.

The empty husk of a cicada still clinging to a leaf.

Cicadas spend most of their lives as a burrowing insect with no wings but when they mature they’re driven by instinct to climb to a place where they can shed their shells and spread their newly formed wings. What’s left behind is the old exoskeleton. Insect exoskeletons are made of a substance called chitin. Chitin is a chain of complex sugars that form fibers that are actually suitable for making paper believe it or not. The process is similar to making paper from wood pulp ( which is also a complex sugar ).

Image Titled “Cicada 61120b”

Cicada wings, as it turns out, are pretty special. Some species have wings that are able to repel water so efficiently that their being studied in hopes of developing airplane wings that reject ice forming on them and glass that can’t fog up. Cicada wings are also the source of that incredible noise. They rub their wings together along with a special organ called a tymbal that makes clicking noises.

Image Titled “Cicada 61120c”

It’s the male of course that’s the noisy one. He’s just using his outside voice trying to get a lady’s attention.

Image Titled “Cicadas Together 61120”

When they’re ready to lay their eggs the female cicadas will rip open the bark of a tree and lay her eggs there. The damage done by them can kill a tree.

This invasion will probably be over in about another month or so. The adult cicadas will actually be a boom for carnivores. If you’re a fisherman then you know how much the fish love cicadas so don’t waste the opportunity. It will be another 17 years before they come out again.

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