On May 8, 2024
Columns

The trillionaires: singing, mating, killing and tripping

By Bruce Bouchard and John Turchiano

Editor’s note: Bruce Bouchard is former executive director of The Paramount Theatre. John Turchiano,  his friend for 52 years, was formerly the editor of “Hotel Voice,” a weekly newspaper on the New York Hotel Trades Council. They are co-authoring this column collaborating to tell short stories on a wide range of topics. 

Ok! Get ready people, it’s emergence time; your friends and family who reside in the northern and central Midwest, the Deep South and the Southeast have an approaching messy miracle, a maximum decibel symphony; a mating, urinating and psycotropicating bacchanal. This spring, in a matter of days, will host a rare combination of two cicada broods: the great southern brood (XIX) and the northern Illinois brood (XIII) creating a monster brood (X), and they are coming.     

The two different broods of cicadas — one that lives on a 13-year cycle and the other that lives on a 17-year cycle — will emerge at the same time from underground in a rare, synchronized event that last occurred in 1803. The last time it happened, Thomas Jefferson was president. The next time it will happen will be 221 years hence! To borrow from Rodgers and Hammerstein, “The Hills [will be] Alive with the Sound of [Cicada] Music,” their torch song — luring mates to propagation! They sing, they mate, they shelter their young, they die, and their remains fertilize the earth.  

One trillion cicadas are descending upon our neighbors over the next six weeks!  

We need to look, listen, and learn about this compelling entomological miracle! 

You heard us say one trillion cicadas, yes? To put a fine point on this invasion, Floyd N. Shockley, entomologist at the Smithsonian Institute forwards this: “To put it into perspective just how many bugs will arrive, one trillion cicadas, each just over an inch in length, placed side by side, head to toe, would cover 15,782,828 miles end to end or, a different way to look at it: this cicada train would reach the moon and back 33 times!” The total spread of this brood of cicadas movement (brood as in flock of seagulls, murder of crows) will reach 16 states through the middle of June.  

A few facts of orientation related to genus, Magicicada Septendecim:  

They live underground for either 13 or 17 years.

They sustain themselves over these years by ingesting ground and tree liquids.

They emerge only after the ground reaches 64 degrees, hence the spring movement.

When they emerge, they molt, revealing their new selves, and begin their mating chorus, which when fully engaged by a giant choir of males can reach decibels higher than the landing of a jet plane. 

Their primary value in the ecological chain is of advanced tree pruning.  

They drink 300 times their body weight each day. A huge (to body weight) pump in their heads sucks in the water and, as you will see next, eliminates it with a mighty strength of purpose.

Their urination stream is stronger than the flow of an elephant or a horse.

They aren’t good fliers or landers. They often end up on city streets to be squished by people or cars, “makin’ things real slick.” Envision unsuspecting people, struggling on the sidewalks of Cincinnati, slipping, sliding and falling into the dark, slick mess like a novice bowler slipping and falling onto a newly polished lane. 

As with many boisterous parties, there is a dark and deadly side to this emergence, a side stranger than science fiction; wilder than the grim predictions of the Helstrom Chronicles: This emergence, of two broods, for the first time in ten generations, and once in our lifetimes, in addition to being loud and crowded, will have a number of serial killers within its population. Not to worry, they don’t harm us; they neither sting nor bite. Their gruesome murders are strictly family matters.

USA Today re-released reporting from 2020, supported by a Plos Pathogens study, stating that “A virulent STD will emerge in 10% of the brood of male cicadas. They will, after mating, contract a fungal parasite, which in short order is deadly. This pathogen, is a form of biological puppetry in which the pathogen manipulates the behavior of the powerless hosts, by disemboweling and severing the lower half of the male body, leaving in its place wet, open spores which will infect and kill many others in the brood.” 

The Plos Pathogens study also found the Massospora (the open spores) in the infected cicadas contain psychoactive compounds, including psilocybin. This finding was also confirmed by Dr. John Cowley, an entomologist at the University of Connecticut. These combined studies by Plos Pathogens and Dr. Cowley further concluded that the infected pathogen victims experience something akin to “The Walking Dead” or “The Last of Us.” The decrepit creatures wreak fatal havoc with the quiet savagery of ricin; “Breaking Bad” indeed!   

While taking all of this esoterica to heart, add one other option — you can eat the cicada! Should you wish to top off this entire inquiry you can visit Chef Bun Lai at his family Sushi restaurant, Meyas Sushi in New Haven, Connecticut. Chef Bun extolls their sweet, bitter virtues enhanced by adzuki beans and shavings of walnuts and chestnuts on their gently crunchy exteriors giving way to a creaminess, much like a soft shell crab.

It’s a very good thing indeed that his shop is in New Haven, Connecticut far from the zone of cicada totality found in Illinois or Georgia. This, lest we confuse the wet spores of bifurcation with the soft shell crab creaminess of a freshly roasted cicada. Or perhaps you would prefer to try his popcorn garland of bugs cooked over fire and then put into a kale salad with beet greens and scallions or in a Cicada Miso soup with a savory broth of kelp and oyster mushrooms poured over a bowl of raw cicadas. Yum! I am seeing geometric patterns already! 

Put aside the challenges of our crazed world, the stress, the contention, upset, and worry, and wrap your head around this meditation: Imagine one trillion of anything: stars, memories, acts of kindness, original ideas, wishes, one dollar bills, anything… and now, bring in the cicadas, en masse: singing, and flirting, and dancing and mating, and yes, killing. They see you, they feel you — it’s inevitable, you live in their world.

One trillion cicadas, a rare combination of two, emerge globally, mating and mating. 10% of males carry a deadly fungal parasite. Photo submitted.

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