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COLUMN: 'Gen X of cicadas' getting ready to emerge

In this week's column, Wendy warns of coming swarm of cicadas once snow melts
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A cicada in all its glory in late summer. | Photo courtesy of Stuart Blackwell

I know the snow is covering everything right now, but have you heard what’s lurking just underground?

They’ve been plotting, planning and waiting to pounce for 17 years and now, in 2024, are ready to emerge. The last time this happened was in 1803.

And they are desperately seeking romance.

The cicadas. (Insert haunting music.)

The Generation X of cicadas, in fact. If they are stereotypical Gen Xers (born between 1965 and 1980), they may be a bit agitated.

Generally, they don’t get the same attention as baby boomers or millennials, so they are sort of like the ‘middle child.’

Maybe the bugs are ready for their time in the sun.

So, they are likely a bit testy and ready to be seen by the world. And they intend to be heard.

Scientists have described their creepy buzzing noise as a “summer song.” It has been recorded as being the same decibels as a jet or a jackhammer.

It is technically a mating call.

It is only a six-week cycle and it will likely impact the U.S. Midwest (Illinois) more than Ontario, but we likely will experience the phenomenon, too.

Still, six weeks of that buzzing sound could drive a person around the bend.

Dr. Jonathan Larson of the University of Kentucky calls it “the most macabre Mardi Gras you’ve ever seen.”

If Hollywood can make horror movies about birds and sharks, then this could be the year of the cicada.

The Canadian Encyclopedia describes them as “25 to 30 mm long with wide-set eyes and short antennae. Most are black with greenish or orange markings.”

The more unscientific description would be creepy.

So, this year, it seems two broods (species) come out at the same time, bringing us billions of the insects in North America.

The good news is the bugs are harmless. They don’t sting or bite.

Dogs might try to eat them because they are crunchy, and that could be bad for their digestion, but they are not poisonous.

If their unappealing appearance or screechy sound doesn’t give you pause, consider this: When they emerge, they eat from the sap of trees, and those who study these things say it makes them urinate a lot.

Entomologists say due to the vast numbers of insects expected (billions), we could experience what scientists describe as “a gentle summer rain.”

Bug pee. Lots and lots of bug pee.

That is another possibility from late spring to the dog days of summer in 2024.

I guess the advice is to not look up.

But, on the ground there will be thousands of little bug skeletons crunching underfoot.

So, basically, there is nowhere to hide.

I know some people will find this unique phenomenon to be really interesting and educational. However, I offer it also as a cautionary tale for those of us who are afraid of our own shadow.

So, for now, while some may we wishing the winter away, let us just appreciate that at this moment, there are no screaming, big-eyed bugs in our path.

And, no tree pee.

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About the Author: Wendy King

Wendy King writes about all kinds of things from nutrition to the job search from cats to clowns — anything and everything — from the ridiculous to the sublime. Watch for Wendy's column weekly.
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