Cicadas are a once-in-a-17-year treat for inhabitants of the eastern part of the U.S. After almost two decades of living underground, billions of cicadas pushed through the freshly thawed muck of late spring this year, “Thriller”-style, to make their summer debut. Once these 17-year periodical cicadas have emerged from the ground, they shed their exoskeletons to roam their first night on Earth as milky-white nymphs.
As they take over the small towns and suburbs of the Eastern Seaboard, cicadas are also slowly swarming social media discourse. Scientists are overjoyed and writers are fascinated. Dictionary searches for the word “cicada” spiked 500% on May 10th, according to Merriam-Webster. Everything about them — their ubiquity, disruptiveness, inevitability — lends itself to commentary. Even the name for this particular group of cicadas, Brood X, stimulates the imagination. I hear “Brood X”, and I see a fleet of robo-bugs on their way to save Grimes from her corporate keeper. Once they complete their rescue mission, we’ll all meet up and rave to Lady Gaga’s Chromatica and live happily ever after.
Cicadas are versatile; they contain more facets of existence than we know what to do with. Mysterious, contradictory, and very horny, it’s fair to call them nature’s best meme.
If you’re looking to understand the world around you, cicadas are the perfect creature to study. They’re paradoxically rare and abundant — they appear only every decade and change, but when they come, they number in the trillions. They’re a lesson on playing the long game — Brood X spent 17 years growing, building anticipation. But they also remind us to go all out — their presence this summer will feel like an overwhelming wave that demands we stop and notice them.
I have no idea why cicadas get such hate. There is no insect that embodies the current zeitgeist like a bug emerging from isolation screaming about needing to get laid.— Angela, your Tampa Bae. ⚡ (@bitchyhistory) May 18, 2021
There is so much to cicadas we do not know and what little we do know reveals that the species is a universe unto itself, perhaps not unlike many other animals, but their long absence and loud presence hint at a universe of extremes. They want us to notice them — no, they demand it. This brings us to my second-favorite thing about cicadas: Everything about them is very horny. Think about it: Their time underground is teasingly long. Once they emerge, it is to quickly mature and generate mating calls that reach a volume of 96 decibels. But unfortunately, what nourishes them (cicada sex) can also destroy them: An unlucky percentage of these emerging cicadas is infected with a fungus that floods their brains with amphetamines, essentially zombifying them and turning them into what The Washington Post calls “sex-crazed saltshakers of death.” We’ve been warned: this summer will be more explosive and climactic than we might be able to handle.
Cicadas are an opportunity to think differently: They highlight how cities and suburbs are two different worlds; their mating calls are so loud and incessant in small-town Georgia that residents are calling the cops, but their cries mellow out the typical sound pollution in urban areas so that real life feels like a summer scene out of a Studio Ghibli movie. Their return is an invitation to imagine a future of sustainable eating, after all, the United Nations has been pushing bug consumption as a sustainable protein source and remedy for mass hunger since 2013, so why not start now? Cicadas are ridiculously abundant and are said to taste not only like shrimp, but also like Gushers. You can gather some and try any number of popular recipes for yourself.
Whatever cicada fact sticks to your brain, however you meme them, whether you decide to live with, against or alongside them (or eat them), remember that they contain multitudes of infinite poetic value, and they let us do our silly little human thing — observe and extrapolate. A cicada is a quirky little bug, seemingly designed to enable our navel-gazing tendencies, a perfect start to the summer.