Friday, July 05, 2013

COLUMN: Cicadas

The internet. It is the single greatest technological advancement of our lifetime. It has redefined the way we communicate, consume, inform, interact, and distribute videos of cute animals worldwide. And it is the Last Temptation of Shane.

I am somehow lucky enough to work for a great company in the newspaper industry that hands me a paycheck every week for a gig that is, more often than not, authentically fun to go to every day. That said, there's a bit of an expectation at play here.

In exchange for said weekly paycheck, the aforementioned great company (did I mention how GREAT they are?) expects me to spend 40 hours each week doing tasks that are, by and large, newspaper-y in nature. With the internet at one's desk, this can sometimes be a challenge. It turns out dancing cat videos are not especially newspaper-y.

I'm happy to report that, with the appropriate levels of self-control and dedication, it IS possible to go 40 hours in a week without downloading a bootleg movie, posting to Pinterest, or checking on the well-being of Lindsay Lohan. It's just that those hours are slightly sadder than all the others.

After years of time-wasting temptation, I've carefully learned how to live WITH the internet at my desk without living ON the internet at my desk. It's still vital for my job that I have routine access to the 'net, but Facebook and Huffpost headlines must wait until break time. My phone, meanwhile, secretly vibrates in my pocket whenever CNN has breaking news or Amanda Bynes does anything especially crazy. It's a daily struggle to stay out of the rest stops on the information superhighway, but it's an addiction I can control.


Every once in a while, though, a headline comes along that's a little TOO tempting to resist. I was just on Yahoo doing a search that was truly authentically newspaper-y when I saw it. One little headline that stopped me cold and instantly made me forget about doing ANYTHING productive.


This is NOT the kind of headline one should just stumble onto while looking something up on the internet.  This is the sort of headline that needs to be delivered in primetime, preferably by Tom Brokaw, and quite possibly followed by the words: "RUN FOR YOUR LIVES!!!!"

Once again, my enjoyment of the warm weather season has been cut off at about 3.5 weeks. That's how long it usually takes for me to read some horrific news story reminding me that nice temperatures are merely a smoke screen for any number of gross plagues, from bees and mayflies to mosquitos and West Nile.  It's not even June yet and I'm ready for the killing frost.

Thankfully, though, this particular epidemic doesn't really affect us -- apparantly the zombie sex-crazed cicada hordes are, for now, only terrorizing the East Coast.  I was pretty flabbergasted by the details, though.

We live in the Midwest, so we're familiar with the nightly summertime chirping of cicadas.  But these aren't NORMAL cicadas.  No, we're talking about MAGIC cicadas -- or at least those belonging to the genus Magicicada.

Cicadas spend most of their lives in their larval stage, squirming around underground and living off the juice of tree roots (mmm... tree juice.)  Your run-of-the-mill cicadas do this for a couple years before crawling to the surface and sprouting wings.  But magicicadas spend SEVENTEEN YEARS underground before popping out out en masse for what amounts to the grossest spring break ever.

These teenage cicadas have one thing on their mind -- and it's not G-rated.  Their chirping -- which is cicada for "hey, baby, how youuuuu doin?" -- can reach up to 94 decibels.  That's the audio equivalent of standing 15 meters away from a freight train. Correction: a sex-crazed freight train. They don't sting or bite or carry disease, but they'll routinely fly into your hair or, if you're especially lucky, they might attempt to mate with your leg.

The party only lasts for just over three weeks. That's how long it takes for the adult cicadas to pop out, get their freak on, lay eggs, and give all of us the heebie-jeebies... in other words, the entire lifespan of a cicada is pretty much equivalent to ONE good episode of  "Jersey Shore" -- except in THIS version, there's 500 million Snookis.

That's right, estimates of this year's East Coast brood have emerging cicada numbers possibly going into the trillions. The TRILLIONS. That's right, your geology teacher lied to you.  The earth is now officially composed of the core, the mantle, the crust, and the apparantly unspoken layer of SLIMY CICADA LARVAE patiently waiting for their pornographic moment in the sun.

After the three-week orgy, mom and dad drop dead while hatching larvae head underground for their chance to creep out our children seventeen years down the road.

There's NOTHING about this process that's not super gross and pointless in my book.  Whether its the notion of sharing my living space with a trillion horny Jurassic houseflies or the crunching under my feet of the resulting cicada holocaust, I'm sufficiently creeped out.  Thank gosh it's confined to the East Coast.

Except that it isn't.  North America is subject to 23 separate broods of these Magicicada.  Brood XIII is known as the "Northern Illinois Brood" and its ground zero is right here in river city, folks.  Somewhere under our very feet at this very second, prepubescent cicadas are sucking down tree juice and lying in wait.  Its next emergence is scheduled for 2024, and if East Coast Brood II is any example, it should be record levels of ick.

We have eleven years to prepare for the sexy onslaught.  If you need me, I'll be on the internet learning how to stop it. Or possibly researching real estate in Iceland. Maybe they have something newspaper-y there I can do.

No comments: