Here in New Jersey, and no doubt in many other parts of the Eastern US, we’re being treated to courtship rituals of epic proportions. Namely, the emergence of the cicada brood known as Brood X, which is the largest group to emerge en masse once every 17 years.
Their presence is unmistakable in the areas where they appear. The nymphs burrow out of the ground and make their way to the treetops, where they shed their shells to reveal a fairly frightening looking creature only another cicada could love.Cicadas are the original litterbugs. Once they arrive their discarded shells litter the ground. They spread their newly hatched wings and wait a few days to harden, and then the fun begins, because their entire purpose is to find a mate.
Teenagers and rock stars blasting their music have nothing on these little guys. The din of what seems to be loosely translated as the male trilling “come on, honey, I’m up here in the treetops waiting for you” is overwhelming as thousands of males rub their legs together to produce a raspy, crickety symphony, which in concert is about equivalent to a jet engine, maybe.
Who knows how the ladies choose their ideal mate? Is it the bug with the loudest song, the highest perch on the tree, the most attractive wings?
The entire production lasts about a month, during which people are subjected to swarms of flying insects, followed by the corpses of the satiated adults dropping from the trees. Because once the male lures the female and fertilizes her eggs, his job on earth is done, and he’s done for. Mama cicada follows soon after, once she lays her eggs in a tree branch. Baby cicadas hatch, fall from the trees, and burrow into the earth to wait for the next 17-year mating party.
In the meantime, medical professionals are issuing warnings that people who are allergic to shellfish shouldn’t eat the little buggers, which certainly wouldn’t be the first thing coming to my mind when it’s time for dinner.
Even stranger, a Princeton High School insect-eating club (INSECT EATING CLUB??? Seriously? I thought Princeton produced unusually intelligent people!) is planning a taste-testing event to decide which cicada recipe is yummiest.
To top it off, cicadas are vulnerable to a fungus which (I am not making this up) causes their butts to fall off to be replaced with a blob of fungus the size of a pencil eraser, but more importantly does something to their brains which scientists, in a very professional way, say makes them unusually horny. (Yes, you read that right.) This causes the cicada to mate with even more partners, resulting in the spread of a cicada-STD.
How appropriate that this all takes place in June, a month dedicated to weddings. Is Mother Nature a hopeless romantic who planned it that way?
And aren’t you glad human courtship is not quite so gruesome?