Saturday, September 14, 2013

The WEEKLY MUSE: Cicadas

As many of you already know, I lived in Seattle for ten years. And for the most part, summer evenings were pretty quiet compared to those of Indianapolis.
I’m not talking about the sounds of people or cars or police sirens. I’m talking about the little, green monsters with wings that live in the trees. CICADAS!

For many, the sounds of cicadas are obnoxious and mind numbing, but for me it is music to my ears. When I hear the cicada’s whine, I remember that I am HOME. And that brings me comfort and happiness.
So, it looks like we have found our MUSE.


There are two general types of cicadas: annual and periodical.

Annual cicadas perform their life cycle within two years. Periodical cicadas perform a 13 or 17 year life cycle, making them the longest living insects in the world.
Here is how their life cycles work: In the summer a female tears a slit into a tree limb with her beak. She deposits her eggs inside. When the eggs hatch the small nymphs resemble a termite or a grain of white rice. These little guys suck on the tree’s juices.

Eventually, the nymphs will fall to the ground and begin tunneling into the earth. Here, they will spend most of their lives. Underground they continue to suck the juices from trees – this time from their roots.
When the time is right, the nymphs will begin digging back to the surface. They crawl across the ground until they find a tree to climb. And once they have found a secure place, they begin the last stage of metamorphosis. They emerge from their exoskeleton and leave the shell behind.

I used to hunt for these exoskeletons when I was a kid, and I still do today! Take a look at the photo and see the latest beauties I found.

Three cicada exoskeletons found on a pine tree.
Once the cicada’s wings are dry and ready for flight, they begin searching for a mate. The males make their signature whining sound to swoon a female, and the life cycle starts all over again.

A cicada emerging from its exoskeleton.

The cicada I found was a “Dog Days” cicada. These cicadas are annual cicadas that are easy to find year after year.
Take a look at this video to see the amazing Magicicada! These cicadas emerge once every seventeen years.

As you just learned, cicadas come out in MASS numbers. But why?
Well, the cicada has many predators. For one, squirrels eat them like nuts. Birds, raccoons, opossums, foxes and even people eat cicadas, too.

But nothing compares to the infamous CICADA KILLING WASP. If you plan to write a story about a cicada, consider these bad boys as your antagonist. Take a look at this incredible video.

All I can say is, “WOW!”

By the way, did you hear all the cicada "chorus" in the background of that video?

Here is one last interesting fact about cicadas. They LOVE lawnmowers! Yup, the twirling blades sound like a cicada PARTY!
With this new knowledge, what kind of story could you write? Maybe these WHAT IF questions will help you get started.

WHAT IF your main character was a Cicada King? What if the Cicada King led an army of cicadas against a swarm of Cicada Killing Wasps?
WHAT IF your main character found the exoskeleton of a GIANT cicada? This GIANT cicada is the size of a school bus, and it is on the loose! 

WHAT IF your setting was underground and the 17 year cicadas were planning their trip to the surface? What would they be feeling? Would they be excited? Scared? Sad?
The possibilities are endless, and please leave your own WHAT IF questions in the comment section below. I’d love to see what you come up with.

So, grab a cup of hot cocoa, a pencil and a piece of paper, and let’s begin. With your imagination, we can go anywhere. I look forward to seeing where you take us.
With Imagination,

Professor Watermelon
The word of the week is “exoskeleton”. Here is the definition: the protective or supporting structure covering the outside of the body of many animals, such as the thick cuticle of arthropods.

1 comment:

  1. People eat cicadas! OH MY!

    Prof. Watermelon!