Thursday, June 24, 2004

Wake Me In 17 Years

The Great Cicada Invasion of 2004 has come to a close in the DC area. The neighborhoods that first experienced them have been quiet for a couple of weeks now, and by today, even the stragglers that joined the party late were silent. So in any given locale, the whole thing lasted maybe three weeks. And while some people may want me arrested for saying this, I miss their incessant sound.

Come August, the eggs that our now deceased friends laid will be hatching, and the nymphs--smaller than an ant--will literally take a leap of faith and drop to the ground. Those fortunate enough to land on soil will quickly burrow underground and find a tree root to call home for the next 16 1/2 years. The unlucky ones who land on a sidewalk, or pavement, or your car parked in the shade.... Well, they'll have had a really, REALLY short lifespan.

Though a few people did tend to freak out, the cicadas were completely harmless. They don't carry disease, they don't sting or bite, and they don't eat. Their only negatives are the noise (audio clip on this page, about 3/4 of the way down), and something called flagging, which is experienced by trees. We're seeing a lot of that now.

Flagging occurs when the leaves on the very tips of tree branches turn brown and die. That's caused by the females' laying of eggs, which involves slicing into the bark. If it occurs near the tip of a branch, where the wood is thinner, it can cause flagging. However, even that considered a benefit because it serves to prune the trees and spur more growth later on. Other benefits include turning the soil as they emerge, and releasing nitrogen as their bodies decay. Indeed, there are at least 17 other uses for dead cicadas.

But perhaps most importantly, they serve to remind us that there are still forces in nature that don't care what we silly humans do to each other (Excellent article on this topic by one of my favorite Post writers, Joel Achenbach).

When these critters last came out in 1987, it was a very different world. Not only was Ronald Reagan still President, but it was the year he delivered his memorable "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall" speech. Mary Kate and Ashley were only a year old while the Bush Twins were in kindergarten and still sober. There was no internet and blogs were written on paper. Baby Jessica fell down a well. The year's top movie was "Look Who's Talking" and Bruce Willis was a TV star. Monica Lewinsky was practicing her technique on her thumb. Michael Jackson was still considered normal. Saddam was our friend, and Britney Spears.... Wait, Britney who?

And what will our world look like in May (or January, if current rates of global warming continue to hold) of 2021 when the soil temperature hits 64 degrees and a new generation of cicadas begins to emerge? Will Osama have won, and the survivors among us be living in caves? Will we talking about the good old days when gas was only two dollars a gallon? Will there still be TV's, or will the shows be beamed directly to our brains? Will President Jenna Bush be seeking to avenge her daddy's electoral loss by launching another invasion of Iraq?

Only time will tell what the future holds.

0 thoughtful ramblings: