If you don’t mind indulging me here, take a second and listen. Do you hear that screeching sound coming through the window?
It’s louder than the white noise of the fan, louder than the TV or traffic. It seems to be emanating in waves from the treetops. The sound builds for a few minutes, and then dissipates before starting up again. The cycle repeats all day, all night.
It’s the Cicada, the loudest insect of all. Most of what we’re hearing is the annual variety, known colloquially as the Dog-Day Cicada. Their song, appearing around the same time as the first really good tomatoes, signifies that high summer is here.
The females lay their eggs in tree branches, and when they hatch the nymphs fall to the ground. There they burrow, usually for a couple of years or longer. Based on how loud it is outside as I’m writing this, the ground must be very heavily salted with these subterranean creatures. I think I have made as many holes in the ground as a typical career gravedigger, but I don’t recall ever coming across an immature Cicada. They dig several feet down and stay there, feeding on roots and protected from almost every predator and shovel.
Only in the very last part of its life does the Cicada emerge into daylight. The nymph digs out, climbs up a tree (or telephone pole, or the side of a house) and splits open its exoskeleton to unfurl as an insect so substantial it seems physically impossible it could have been stuffed into such a small shell. This is when it starts making noise.
Cicadas are also called Locusts, and those familiar plagues referred to Biblically are from the Seventeen year locust, which I’m going to post about next time. Besides having an unusual lifecycle, there is a great, albeit forgotten, Northwest Philadelphia story about this insect that I can’t wait to tell you about.