Monday, July 2, 2012


The sound of my childhood summers was the distinct humming of cicadas.  On the hottest of summer days, this sound was heard high in the trees that lined my street. How lucky to be able to catch this magical transformation as it took place this summer. Though I have heard cicadas, I hadn't seen one before, let alone been witness to this amazing part of its life cycle.

After having spent as much as 17 years underground, sucking sap from tree roots, cicadas emerge to shed their larvae casings. They climb a tree and latch on, in this case to a hanging wicker basket. The outer shell cracks open and they slowly merge, shedding their outer layer.

Having emerged a little further, the wings are still all folded up and can be seen as the two green protrusions at each side of the body. The cicada is hanging upside down with only a small portion left to be pulled from the casing.

A side view of the cicada, now fully emerged and wings beginning to unfurl. The green, by the way, was the bright shade it is in these photos.

The wings are now completely formed and have rotated to angle down. Total time elapsed, perhaps 20 minutes to half an hour. Eventually the cicada would have moved to the branches above to sing for a partner, but we left at this point, having invaded the poor creature's privacy long enough. The males attract a female by making the characteristic humming sound, while the females answer with a clicking sound, made by flipping their tails.

I'm including this photo of the cicada hanging from the wicker basket to give you a sense of the scale of this newly formed creature.

BBC Worldwide produced a time-lapse segment on the life cycle of the cicada with Sir David Attenborough that's available on YouTube.

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