Magicicadas Spring Concert

by Riverdave Owen 

News & Observer on 5/11/11

Subterranean sap suckers.  Can you imagine anything more bizarre?  Thirteen years underground, tunneling in total darkness, searching for tender tree roots for sustenance.  I wonder if these insects ever bump into one another by accident underground?  Might they pause for a brief social chat and enjoy subterranean life before slavishly moving on to their next root?  

Then one May evening they emerge from the earth and begin their ascent of trees.  In the warmth of the following morning, the Magicicada nymph discards its underground garment and unfolds its pair of new golden wings.  Bright red eyes peer in wonderment at the new sunny world of green.  Shedding that old coat is lots of work, so hunger sets in. Trees are on the breakfast menu as it probes fresh twigs.  

After several days they have refueled and are ready for life’s greatest act.  High aloft,  the music boxes of the males strike a shrill whine that rings through the forest canopy.  They aggregate to intensify their songs.  Females catch the musical vibrations and move in closer to make their matches.  After thirteen lonely years of patient groping in the dark, there is finally ecstasy.  Bathed in brilliant sunshine atop towering ancient oaks, life is passed on to the next generation.

Durham is currently experiencing its second week of the emergence of a brood of these thirteen year periodical cicadas, known by entomologists as Magicicadas.  Spring is truly in the air.  The myriad of tiny voices can be heard ringing in our treetops for those who have ears to hear.  

It is indeed a subtle energy and not everyone will catch it.  As we hurry on our ways, some of us may puzzle over the squished insect bodies strewn about on asphalt roads. In neighborhood backyards, delighted children may scoop up the enchanting, red-eyed bugs to let them walk all over their clothing.

Friendly critters, out to have their day in the sun after thirteen long years in the dark womb of Mother Earth.  Gently, I pick one up to hold on my index finger at eye level.  I  gaze into those ruby-red eyes, so full of rich, earth energy.  This is truly a special moment in my calendar of events.  The acoustic spring concert starring our hometown Magicicadas is number one on the list of events held in Durham this year. I invite you to join me.  Admission is free ...



Photos by Riverdave:  Magicicadas 


The magicicadas emerged from three inch deep holes.

Here's one resting on a twig of our sequoia tree in our backyard.

and in a tulip tree ...