I photographed the process of a single cicada transforming from nymph to adult in 5 hours. It's really something.

May 15th

You don't always have to "go somewhere" to witness nature. Sometimes it's right outside your door. Sometimes, it comes to you.

"Brood X" is upon us, and if it's as big as the last "big" one, 17 years ago, it should be spectacular. But before the real mayhem starts, it's useful to stop and take in these amazing creatures up close, one-on-one, before it becomes overwhelming and frankly, routine.

There are miracles in the routine.

I saw my first cicada a few days ago. And then another. A few here and there since then until today when I found one of my brown paper "yard waste" bags with a dozen or so cicadas at various stages of development.

Why on earth were so many on the paper bag?

Permit me to back up a moment with a quick review of the previous 17 years.

The last time this particular brood emerged there were no iPhones, gender wasn't fluid, and Critical Race Theory remained safely isolated in the faculty lounges of unhappy liberal arts professors.

The cicadas didn't care about any of that, of course, they simply went about their business finding mates. Before long, the females (we wouldn't have called them egg-producing insects back then) got busy laying their eggs on tree branches.

In about six weeks, white nymphs the size of ants will emerge from the eggs, drop to the ground and work their way into the soil. Like their parents, they'll spend the next 17 or 13 years feeding on fluid found in plant roots.

17 years. That technically makes them a member of Generation Z, so honestly we should count ourselves lucky that they didn't all just stay underground in their parents' basements.

Seventeen-year cicadas spend the earliest months of their final year burrowing toward the soil's surface. By April, the cicadas have entered a nymph stage and rest slightly below ground level. When the soil temperature rises above 64 degrees Fahrenheit (17.78 degrees Celsius), the cicada nymphs venture out of the soil through half-inch (1.2-centimeter) diameter holes.

That's what's happening now. But what drew them to my large brown paper bags?

The then flightless young cicadas journey upward at sunset, crawling a foot or more up any nearby vertical surface -- tree trunks, weeds, woody shrubs, homes or outbuildings -- to begin the next phase of life.

And here's where our pictorial begins.

While there were quite a few, I chose to focus my attention on one that appeared to be at a promising stage. You'll note there are a couple of cicadas that had emerged earlier that move around him, but this is the same cicada throughout.

I caught him as still a nymph, right next to an adult. At this point he's just a big fat bug. Not to worry, you can't fat shame a cicada, they are very comfortable with their body type. Also, they're bugs.

You can make out the beginnings of wings through the exoskeleton he will soon shed. (6:21 AM)

When they emerge, they start to split right across the back, Hulk-style. (7:10 AM)

Don't make a cicada angry, you wouldn't like him when he's... actually it doesn't matter if you make him angry, cicadas are completely harmless, like an Antifa rioter caught alone without his gas mask and mom's debit card.

It continues to widen as they push out. (7:11 and 7:13 AM respectively)

If you are quiet and still, you can hear the cracking.

A short time later, he really starts pushing out. (7:28 AM)

Then his head pops fully out four minutes later. (7:32 AM)

Different view, one minute later. (7:33 AM)

Two minutes later, he's really coming out. Those orange flaps at his side are what will unfurl into wings, like the guy next to him. (7:35 AM)

Eleven minutes later, a bit more progress. (7:46 AM)

And then, twelve minutes later, the terrifying alien-like emergence!

It is made significantly less terrifying by the fact that he's barely an inch long. Also, he sits just like that, seeming in attack mode, for a pretty long time. I was watching another one a little earlier and I was pretty sure he was dead. He wasn't. Note the wings, just beginning to unfurl. (7:58 AM)

I didn't check back for another 48 minutes in part because I got busy and in part because seriously, he was hanging like that for a while. However, when I did come out, he was fully out of his shell, sitting on top. They all do this. The wings are really starting to take shape. It's amazing the progress they make in less than an hour. (8:46 AM)

Another view. (8:47 AM)

Fourteen minutes later and the wings continue to develop. (9:01 AM)

Side view. (9:01 AM)

Eleven minutes later. (9:27 AM)

Thirteen minutes later something interesting, if subtle, happened. He pulled his wings in to his side like the adults hold their wings. (9:40 AM)

It was over an hour before I got out again, he had by then stepped off his old shell and darkened to the typical color of an adult. (11:03 AM)

An hour later, he was gone, leaving only his shell. (12:11 AM)

While they only live a few weeks after this, keep in mind they had already lived 17 years making them the longest-lived insects in North America. They spend that time sucking on roots, growing and building strength for when it was time for them to burrow up to the surface and begin the life cycle all over again.

If events proceed as planned, we will soon be inundated with millions of them. If it's anything like the last time it will be almost impossible to avoid stepping on them just walking out the front door, so I'm glad I took a moment to enjoy this small creature's emergence from the earth.

With any luck, I'll see them all again in another 17!

If you'd like to learn more and watch a time-lapse video of what I documented above, check out this Attenborough video courtesy of @willlong


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