“They’re super-de-duper dense,” he observed, examining some of the roughly one million cicada nymphs that call this place home — about 1,500 to 2,000 of them per square yard.
Just in time for graduation, the East Coast from Connecticut to northern Georgia is alive with newly emerging adults — only they make far more of a racket than the ones in caps and gowns. It is 17-year-cicada season, and grown men like Dr. Gall — who as a boy would get up in the middle of the night at summer camp to collect moths under a bathroom light — may be seen crawling on their hands and knees to confront insects with vermilion eyes, black thoraxes and golden gossamer wings, the sharp, entomological equivalent of a zoot suit.
Over two to three weeks, periodical cicada nymphs, which have the longest developmental cycle of any insect, emerge from the ground after 17 years of sucking xylem from tree roots to molt into adults. They latch on to stable vertical surfaces — trees, telephone poles, rural mailboxes — to shed their exoskeletons, a tricky gymnastic maneuver.
Five days later, their wings elongated, their bodies pumped and tan, the cicadas are ready to make music together — the males congregating to sing together in chorus, usually on high, sunlit branches; the females flicking their wings in response. Thus begins a complex and deafening courtship, each cicada a tiny bit of drama.
This group is known as Brood II.