Sunday, June 10, 2007

Ree Ree Ree

I’m in the Chicago burbs visiting family and I’ve unwittingly timed my trip to coincide with the emergence of the 17 year cicadas (or locusts as we called them when I was a kid). For those who are unfamiliar, these creepy looking but harmless bugs come out every 17 years and ever since I first experienced them as a 9 year old kid I’ve thought they were cool beans. The last emergence happened the year I left for Boulder and I had to go out to the Forest Preserves to see them because they were completely absent from my Chicago neighborhood and even my grandparents place out in the north burbs was oddly quiet. Not so this year, much to my delight. The place is literally crawling with them and at midday when they become most active the noise they produce is positively apolcalyptic and so loud I was forced into the house to save my eardrums. There are 3 different species that all make different sounds so it turns into quite the chorus when they all get going. There’s a constant droning hum like a power line that’s always going in the background and then a high pitched ‘ree ree ree’ that sort of rises and falls in intensity.

It’s pure Alfred Hitchcock and I love it. At least I thought I did until I went outside the first morning and the second I stepped out the door one of them made a beeline to my leg. Now I know they're harmless and like I said I think they’re cool beans but still, it’s been 17 years and these huge things (they look like hummingbirds when they fly) with their blood red eyes and bright orange wings take a little getting used to so I’ll admit to more than a few moments of initial panic and resisted the urge to scream ‘eeeeeee, geddit off meeeeeee, NOW!!!’ These bugs are fairly laid back too so once they land somewhere they’re not all that inclined to move, esp. not early in the morning when they’re kind of out of it (I can certainly relate) so my leetle friend was in no hurry to vacate my leg. Even worse was the one that unbeknownst to me crawled down my back between my fleece and t-shirt and happily hung out for at least 20 minutes until I finally felt the flutter of wings against my back and realized I had a hitchhiker.

When they crawl out of the ground they’re still in their shells and they’ll climb up trees, walls, or whatever and anchor themselves down before they crawl out of their shells so in addition to the bugs there are shells hanging everywhere and they’re almost creepier than the bugs. I’ve collected a bunch of them to take home to Jonny who’s a bit squeamish. It’s just as well he’s stayed home to look after the dogs because I don’t think he’d be coping very well. Some people don’t do well with insect swarms. Some one the other hand will find a way to profit. Some enterprising soul is selling the little critters on ebay and at least one person was bidding on them last time I checked. My aunt is a school teacher and her school held a cicada eating contest as a fund raiser. At least they were frying them up rather than eating them raw. I’ve even seen a website that has recipes for them and I have to wonder if any of the trendy restaurants downtown are serving any cicada specials. And of course my friend's dog is in pure heaven snarfing up bugs by the mouthful. I’ll stick to admiring them in the backyard thank you very much.

Here's a link to more photos: cicadas
and a cool video showing their life cycle: video


  1. Oh, cool, you got to do the cicadas! When we were in Maryland many years back, there was a moderate year for cicadas and I thought it was really cool (but, like you, we were visiting so didn't have to put up with them in our real life and yard). The humming and pulsating sound always made me think "flying saucer." Very interesting experience.


  2. Cedarfield7:12 AM

    Um, no, I'm sorry, but no. I love nature and bugs and stuff but swarms, no, definitely not. It makes my skin crawl just thinking about them crawling on me. It may have something to do with the fact that it's tick season here so when you feel something crawling on you it's most likely a tick.