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The Buzz About Cicadas


“And the locusts sang off in the distance

Yeah, the locusts sang such a sweet melody

Oh the locusts sang off in the distance

Yeah, the locusts sang and they were singin’ for me”

“Day of the Locusts” Bob Dylan

Bob Dylan wrote this song after receiving an honorary degree from Princeton University at a time when the 17 year cicada was emerging in the New Jersey forests and he could hear it singing in the distance.

Cicadas are not locusts. Locusts are grasshoppers. Cicadas have sucking mouth parts; grasshoppers have chewing mouth parts. Cicadas hardly cause any damage; grasshoppers can cause extensive damage.

When I lived in New York, I witnessed the emergence of the 17 year cicada. Hundreds of thousands of cicadas crawled out of the ground; the males climbed to the treetops and serenaded the females. I was drawn to the eerie humming that could be heard a half mile away.  As I walked into the area I was met by thousands upon thousands of flying female cicadas seeking out the males to begin the life cycle. It was an event I shall always remember.

Here in Florida, we are not blessed by the periodical cicada, but we do have a species that emerges every year. The life cycle is the same. Males sing to attract females. Females fly to males and mate. Females cut small slits in which to lay rice-shaped eggs. Nymphs hatch from eggs in 6 – 10 weeks, fall to the ground and burrow upwards to two feet where they latch on to the tree roots and suck fluids for nourishment. After being in darkness for two years, the nymphs crawl out of the ground onto the trunks of the trees. A split forms in the exoskeleton and out pops an adult cicada.

Imagine how the song may have changed had Bob Dylan known the true nature of the insect that sang in distant forests!

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