[Originally posted Aug 24, 2004 — So we are close to the next 17 year cycle]
Where have all cicadas gone, Long time passing;
Where have all cicadas gone, Long time ago.
I guess you would have to call this Day 73 P.C. (post cicadas) here in Catonsville, MD just on the west side of Baltimore. It is amazing I am still alive to tell this story.
Back in March-April the cicada hype ramped up to frenetic levels as we were all put on Elevated Code RED Alert (for their beady little red eyeballs). You could hardly pick up a local newspaper or watch the news without some sobering warning about the upcoming scourge. I guess this hyperbolic attention is understandable, given the 17-year hiatus of these gross bugs. (Or as my distraught wife described them: “critters bigger than any bug is entitled to be.“)
Fortunately our Baltimore city health officials were on top of the situation and able to properly advise area residents:
“With the pending return of the 17-year cicadas, Baltimore health officials are reminding people that the large, red-eyed insects pose no health risk to residents.
City health commissioner Doctor Peter Beilenson says cicadas don’t bite or sting, are not poisonous, and are even safe to eat.
He says the insects may get caught in people’s hair because they have poor vision.
And they do pose a threat to pets. Cicadas’ shells are indigestible, so eating dozens at a time may cause an animal to vomit or be constipated. [Somehow our dog Scooter didn’t get the message – you know who got to clean up the partially digested regurgitated mess.]
The insects are expected to emerge from the ground across the eastern United States this month.
Officials expect their arrival in Baltimore around May 15th, when the ground reaches 64 degrees. They will live for five weeks.“
That’s all well and good… but don’t try to tell the women in my household that this was no big deal. We considered every possible option: from moving out of state to trying to package up a month long vacation. But we ended up toughing it out like the pioneering outdoorsmen types we are. Of course that meant daily sweeping of the rotting carcasses off the back patio, turning off our outside night light so as not to attract them to the house, making quick runs from the front door to the shelter of the car (only to find them entangled in the windshield wipers in every grotesque position imaginable).
Our yard with its massive white oak trees and undisturbed terrain (we barely even mow the place) must have been certified as an official cicada sanctuary. The cacophony of incessant buzzing and droning from dawn to dusk requires turning up the volume on the idiot box one level past my normal deafness level. (I guess this is the enticing mating call of these seductive critters who live for this short sexual fling and then lay their eggs in the tree limbs and die… any creature that doesn’t even take the time to eat is not very smart in my estimation.) The only damage was the premature browning of clumps of leaves. Not only does this detract from the aesthetics of any drives in the countryside, but it extended the leaf raking season a good three months.
Then there were the nut cases that surfaced who actually couldn’t get enough of this phenomena; from concocting special recipes to designing T-shirts (“I survived the cicadas“) to selling some of the specimens on e-Bay to the less fortunate among us who live in newer housing developments and missed out on the experience. [Here, I must admit, I broke down and captured a few in a cookie tin to shock some of the women from work.] I’m surprised someone didn’t come out with a new cosmetics line based around the stench of the rotting carcasses… whatever the angle, someone is there to exploit it. Amazing folk lore emerged such as the myth that Johns Hopkins University was paying a huge ransom for any lucky individual who could find a cicada with blue eyes… what a charge that put into the kids in the neighborhood.
Kevin Cowherd, my favorite local columnist when it comes to putting a comical spin on the everyday events of life, captures the essence of this amazing phenomena in this article . (Kevin actually dedicated at least four articles to this important topic.)
If the ugly images of these invasive bugs are not burned in your mind, you can always jog your memory with this general list of cicada resources.
Now if I can just make it through 2021 I will be doing pretty well! It’s never too early to prepare.