Perhaps you’ve heard? The apocalypse is coming. And no, it’s not because the General Synod workbook is out. (Although in some areas it is rousing a lot of attention.) Rather, the disaster of which I speak is not really an apocalypse at all, although it will lead to an abrupt ending. Some have dubbed it:
(Insert menacing music here.)
Also known by “Swarmagaddon.”
Not an apocalypse or even a plague for that matter, it is the maturing and mating cycle for the 17-year cicadas, large insects of the family Cicadidae and the genus Magicicada. Across vast swaths of the Eastern seaboard from North Carolina north to upstate New York and Connecticut, Brood II cicadas (there are fifteen regional broods in all) are emerging from the ground to complete their 17-year life cycle, to mate, lay eggs, and then pass on to the nearer presence of the Lord. This life cycle makes them one of the longer-lived insect species around. But of even more interests to scientist and many nature enthusiasts as well is the unique 17-year cycle and how it evolved.
Brood II cicadas hatched upon twigs in tree canopies back in 1996. Then as nymphs they fell to the soil and burrowed into the ground where they have been living and molting and growing for 16 years, surviving off of nutrients they have sucked out of tree roots. In the Spring of their 17th year once the ground temperature has reached 64 degrees Fahrenheit, they emerge for about five weeks to find that special partner cicada to mate with and die and the cycle begins again.
Around where I live their emergence has left visible evidence as the ground underneath trees is pockmarked by many dime-sized holes where they have come up from below. With blood red eyes, dark bodies, and of considerable size, they may look kind of ominous, but offer no harm to us humans for they neither bite nor sting. Their intentions are to begin the musical dance of love. The males have rigid plates on their abdomens that they snap producing alluring “come hither” songs that can reach 100 decibels and should the females like, they respond by clicking the wings. It’s a short courtship as their remaining days are short. By the time late July comes, many of the Brood II cicadas will be completing their lifecycles.
The bonanza of this year’s Brood—and it is indeed a bonanza as it supplies a boom of nutrients for various birds and small mammals that prey upon the cicadas—is one of 15 regional Broods of periodic cidadas. Of the 15 Broods, twelve have a 17-year lifecycle and three have a 13-year lifecycle. Last year, Brood I emerged in the Virginia/West Virginia/Tennessee region. Next year, Brood III emerge in the Midwest, so worry not Midwesterners, as you too will be able to experience the 17-year cicadas!
So why talk about cidadas?
This coming Pentecost Sunday’s Psalter lesson is Psalm 104, probably one of my favourite psalms. Firstly, for verse 15 speaking to and of God that the Lord makes “wine to gladden the human heart, oil to make the face shine, and bread to strengthen the human heart.” I join the psalmist in giving thanks for wine.
But lest we become overly utilitarian, there are verses 24-26: “O Lord, how manifold are your works! In wisdom you have made them all; the earth is full of your creatures. Yonder is the sea, great and wide, creeping things innumerable are there, living things both small and great. There go the ships, and Leviathan that you formed to sport in it.” God creates the sea monster to be. Simply to sport and frolic in the sea! Things great and small! I would add, even the cicada.
But there’s another element that the cicada helps me with, the rhythm of season and cycles. In the always on, twenty-four seven constant-ness of our work and society, there is another beat to which we move, or ought to move, or can move.