My neighborhood is a graveyard. The piles of bodies are starting to mount up. It’s a horror show. A red-eyed, winged, buggy horror show.
I live in one of the epicenters of the Unexpected Cicada Hatching of 2017. The evidence of the invasion is everywhere, from the little holes in the ground where the bugs dug themselves into the light, to the husks of their larval forms littering the sidewalks, to the half-dead adult cicada my dog brought into my house as a snack.
Scientists think these cicadas are early risers from Brood X, a variety of cicada that is supposed to emerge once every 17 years to buzz around, gross everyone out, lay eggs, and then disappear for another 17 years.
But not this group! This group showed up four years early to par-tay! They are here and they are ready to get down with the humans of the region. You really haven’t lived until you've been dive-bombed by a cicada while you’re trying to enjoy dinner out on your deck, let me tell you. It’s an experience.
Some folks have been concerned that the early emergence of a portion of Brood X is due to climate change and that idea is giving me horrific images of a future where the planet is so hot that massive cicada broods become an annual event. They’d be so common that hipsters will start using them to garnish drinks and you’d be able to buy artisanal cicada jewelry to wear to Coachella, which would be renamed Cicadella. HGTV would have specials on how to cicada-proof your home. Cars would feature special windshield wipers to clear cicadas without squishing them. Andrew Zimmern would have a new series with nothing but recipes for cicada and they’d be a prominent ingredient in protein shakes.
But entomologists say I can chill out with my dystopian cicada fears. The emergence of a portion of a brood four years before their scheduled arrival is a known event. They think that cicada development includes four stages, most of which happen underground and take about four years each.
Apparently, some portions of the 17-year cicada broods can finish up early and shave an entire 4-year instar (that’s a scientific term for cicada developmental stages) off their underground years.
Scientists can’t explain why it happens. They just know that it does.
The good news for those of us in the cicada zones: they’ll only be around for a couple more weeks. Cicadas are dramatic additions to any ecosystem, but they don't hang around long on the surface.