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SYFY WIRE Bad Astronomy

The 17-Year Itch

By Phil Plait

I remember a time, many years ago, when I was a lad and at home with my sister. It was a warm early summer day, and I heard something odd outside. I opened my window, and my ears were met with a loud, persistent droning sound. I couldnât figure out where it was coming fromâ¦until I realized it was coming from everywhere.

I ran to my sisterâs room and said, âListen!â and opened her window too. Her eyes got wide, and she said, âWhat is it?â I smiled and replied, âCicadas. Theyâre back.â

She didnât believe me at first, and I didnât blame her. It was loud. But thatâs what happens when billions upon billions of enormous insects are all simultaneously looking for love.

That was 34 years ago now, two cycles past. The time has come once again for those red-and-black giants to come out of the ground and repeat their ancient pattern. To celebrate this, filmmaker Samuel Orr has created a short time-lapse video filled with stunning photography of cicadas, briefly explaining their weirdly fascinating life cycle.

WARNING: If you find insects icky, some of this mayâhaha!âbug you.

Orr has a Kickstarter project to fund a full-length documentary on these critters. I for one welcome our new cicada overlords, and would love to see this film made.

Shortly after my sister and I awoke to the cicadas that long-ago day, my best friend Marc and I went out for a bike ride to the local lake. We always took a bike trail through the woods, but this time it was different: Lining the trail on both sides were countless millions of thin, translucent brown shells, like molds of the cicadasâ adult bodies cast aside once they molted. It was incredible. We tried to talk about them as we rode, but it was nearly impossible because the buzzing of the male cicadas was so loud it drowned out our conversation. So instead, we just laughed and soaked it in.

I donât live on the East Coast anymore, so Iâm missing this yearâs awakening. And I know a lot of people will complain about the loud, irritating, and uncomfortably large insects. But itâs nature at its most amazing, and I wish I could experience it once again. My next chance will be a long time coming.

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