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84 Cicada Spring On a cool wet day in the middle of May, my wife came home with a bag of groceries in one hand and a perplexed look on her face, muttering about insects at the door. “There’s a bunch of strange-looking bugs lined up on the fence,” she said. “They’re bright gold, they’ve got red eyes, and they’re just sitting there, staring.” It had been an unusual May along the banks of the Caney River in northeast Oklahoma. Unseasonably cool, extraordinarily wet. Therefore , any mention of immobile insects didn’t immediately incite much interest. We’d had only three days of sunshine through the third week of May. Not exactly the kind of weather to jump-start insect engines. Still, curiosity won out, and I ambled out into a dreary, drizzly day to see what she was talking about. And there they were, lined up on the fence, on tree limbs, under the eaves, arranged in a seemingly comatose state. Hundreds of insects and an equal number of abandoned exoskeletons stuck to tree trunks and exterior walls. It was a scene that could have been lifted from some low-budget Japanese horror movie: Invasion of the“Magicicadas.” The arrival of Brood IV had begun. Unfortunately for a natural phenomenon that happens only every seventeen years, the 2015 emergence of periodical cicadas, in our neck of the woods at least, corresponded with some of the worst-possible 85 Cicada Spring weather that an infrequent visitor could venture into. The rain was incessant, record setting. And the constant drizzly overcast kept temperatures below normal. So after burrowing up and out of the soil, the cicadas sat still and waited for better weather. And they did so in silence, strange for an insect that’s programmed to wail throughout the day in long, buzzing trills orchestrated to attract romance and to do so at high volume and in great numbers. But sit quietly was, at the moment, all these heralded visitors could do, because as cicada luck would have it, the fat little bugs with their protruding eyes had emerged into a world not quite right for reproductive frenzy. It remained overcast and cool for several more days, and Magicicada cassini was left with little recourse other than to add extra hours onto the seventeen years they’d spent underground, sipping fluids extracted from plant roots.And so they sat,red-orange eyes boring into damp gray space,awaiting increased warmth and sunlight. They seemed like cicada statuary: gold thoraxes and abdomens drying to brown, splitting to reveal black thoraxes and abdomens, supporting orange-tinted clear wings with black veins, orange legs locked onto whatever structure offered shelter,seemingly content to stay comatose until the return of normal May weather. Brown exoskeleton shucks littered trees and outbuildings for days, and still the shrill keening of calling males failed to reverberate . In time, I began to wonder if an unusually wet spring would nullify a highly anticipated natural occurrence that required nearly two decades of development to transpire. Then, after several days of nervous anticipation, the sun came out, the temperature shot up, and the trees came alive with crooning cicadas. Previously I’d never been fortunate enough to be living in the right place at the right time to experience this unique natural phenomenon. As a kid I’d mostly grown up with the great summer trilling of Tibicen canicularis,the ubiquitous dog-day cicada that year after year produced a near-deafening chorus during the heat of August.Later in life,during summers along the Canadian River,my Labrador retriever and I would walk the riverbank so he could hunt for cicadas that launched from sunflower stalks with a shrieking whir, allowing a hundred pounds of black Lab the opportunity to munch them like candy. But never before had periodical cicadas of the seventeen-year variety literally landed on my doorstep like these ubiquitous arrivals from the 2015 brood. The droning, buzzing trill of our resident annual cicadas paled 86 Cicada Spring before the clamor of the little black bugs with the big red-orange eyes. It seemed that the individual Magicicada song was higher in pitch and less blasting than that of their annually appearing cousins. But the newcomers’ incredible numbers more than made up for their less obtrusive caterwauling. The din soon spread through the tall hardwoods bordering the Caney River, then up the river’s tributaries. A trail bordering Pond Creek in...


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MARC Record
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