They’ve been underfoot outdoors, all around us here in Northern Virginia, for seventeen years, leisurely sipping the sap from grass and tree roots. Most of that time, they’re in cozy tunnels eight to twelve inches below ground. About a month ago, they moved up closer to the surface, where they wait until the ground temperature feels right. I saw my first representatives of Brood X yesterday morning on my neighbor’s front steps. I spotted several more on our iron fence this afternoon. Today, there will likely be more. I know from past experience that our immediate area will soon be rich, almost beyond imagination, in cicadas.
In the next several weeks, it will become close to impossible to avoid the orange-veined brothers and sisters of Brood X. They’ll be everywhere, looking out onto this bright new world with their bulging red eyes. They’ll be moving slowly, if at all. Their large wings don’t seem to be quite big enough for their lumbering bodies, and their flight is awkward and haphazard. They apparently don’t spend enough time in a winged state to master the art of flying. I’m reminded of a new driver making a first clumsy attempt to drive a car with standard transmission.
Look down in non-grassy areas and you may see the perfectly round, dime-sized holes the cicadas leave when they emerge from their subterranean long-term leases.
You may see some cicada “chimneys,” as well. These are the domed cylindrical mud towers the insects build atop their holes as protection during wet weather.
Near dusk, you may see milky white, ghostly cicadas crawling across the ground. These are the newly emergent nymphs, with as-yet undeveloped wings.
The nymphs find a perch on which to anchor themselves as they gradually shed their exoskeletons. These copper-colored shells will soon be omnipresent on tree trunks and branches. And then they’ll start to pile up around the bases of trees.
For a while, still, we can enjoy our friends from Brood X a few at a time, when they are at their endearing best. Appreciate this early stage. It won’t last long.