I looked down at the stone I had just removed from my flower bed, a creature so hideous stared back at me clawing the air with its dirt covered talons. Brown and somewhat translucent, this lumpy alien, barely larger than a gumball, seemed oddly familiar. Then it hit me, I had seen versions of this thing hanging all over my home! I had inadvertently unearthed a cicada still in its shell!
As most three-year-old little girls are, my daughter got super screamy around insects of ALL sizes. This one however, captivated her imagination. We scooped the bug up into a paper cup and watched as its legs scraped the sides (it sounded just like you’re thinking it would). I cringed internally, but showed only excitement, wanting my child to continue in her wonderment. We placed the creature in a clear plastic fish tank with a few sticks and a well secured lid. I wasn’t completely sure what would go down, but had seen enough of the empty shells around the yard to know we should watch for bit.
Sure enough, within a few hours the back opened up and a new life emerged. Don’t get me wrong: The new one was just as creepy as the original, but it was jewel toned with golden threads woven around it. Beady insect eyes showed depth and facets, and I watched awe spread over my daughter as she stared into them. In that moment of discovery, she and I fell in love with the most unlikely of suitors: the Dog Day Cicada.
North Texas Symphony
As a child, I remember rolling into North Texas to visit my grandma for the first time. The roar of the outdoors was startling. I would sleep on her screened-in porch and wonder at the invisible cacophony of this muggy world. When my oldest and I set out on our Dog Day adventure, it brought me back to my own childhood. We were obsessed.
Each night we would go out around 9:00 p.m. with flashlights and scan the brick walls for newly emerged cicadas. If we were lucky enough to find one still in its shell, we took it inside and watched the transformation with baited breath. Google became a hot commodity as we scoured the web for information. We learned about their diets, their habitat, their songs. We listened to cicadas from around the world, amazed at the variety. Every morning we collected the shells that had been emptied the night before. I loved watching her delight in learning. She was conquering her fears and finding joy in creation! What could go wrong!?
Love Has No Bounds
Then, my sweet princess, who would melt at the sight of a sugar ant, took her love for cicadas to new heights — specifically, into my home. She found a dead cicada outside and immediately adopted it. “Rupert” the cicada went everywhere with her. I began finding newly adopted cicadas and the dozens of collected shells in her bed, in dresser drawers, purses, shoes . . . .
Sometimes, as adults, we have to make the choice between our own comfort and our children’s desire to explore; so I got creative. “Rupert” got a new home inside an old iPhone box. We painted the shells (a gold or purple cicada discovered under a pillow is a little less disturbing than the brown earthy tones.) We started turning in extra specimens to the Nature Traders at the Fort Worth Zoo. Now, each summer in late July/early August, we wait anxiously for the first shell to appear signaling cicada season has arrived.
You Too Can Be a Cicada Hunter!
North Texas is only one of the many places cicadas can be found. A quick online search can tell you when you can expect the next wave of cicadas to emerge. Various species of cicada actually only emerge every 13-17 years! Here in North Texas we see them every year, but they are actually on a three-year cycle, meaning the ones you see on your house are adults that have lived under your yard for three years. (Okay, I told you, we are cicada obsessed around here. I won’t bore you with more nerdy facts.)
Here’s what you will need: flashlight, cup, stick (if you don’t want to touch them with your hands), and clear, breathable container with something for the cicada to climb on (it needs to hang in order to safely emerge from the shell). Shake off the natural instinct to run from all things creepy and head outside just after dusk (in DFW between 9:00 – 10:00 p.m.). Search along brick walls, bushes, fences, and tree trunks. Take pictures and share them on the FWMB Facebook page; we want to explore with you!