Cicadas - They’re Even in My Thoughts

Cicadas - They’re Even in My Thoughts

June 14, 2024 by Gregg DeMey

My family arrived in Elmhurst during the summer of 2008, the year after the last visit of the 17-year cicadas. Now I know what all the excitement is about. While we have apparently passed “peak cicada” and are now on the downswing, I’ve been thinking a lot about these peculiar flying friends and wanted to share a few thoughts:

First, cicadas remind me of my teenage self. I just learned that it’s only the male cicadas that make the incessant buzz-saw-like noise – they are equipped with a spectacular apparatus* for making all that racket. The females make a relatively demure clicking sound in response. So, pretty much all the sonic clutter amounts to male cicadas looking for a dating partner. Not so different from my frequent and obnoxious attempts to get Sarah’s attention all those years ago. Miraculously, both myself and so many cicadas managed to succeed!

Second, cicadas remind me that nothing in this material world lasts forever. While cicadas have a few weeks in which they appear omnipresent to us (even in our cars and hitching the occasional ride on our necks), they will be gone before August. I often find myself repeating the time-worn phrase “this too shall pass” when I’m trying to summon up extra patience or perspective. When it comes to cicadas, they are indeed passing quickly. And in this I find common cause with the cicada – no doubt, from God’s point of view, I, too, am swiftly passing.

Third, I’m thankful that God didn’t endow cicadas with much brain matter because these poor little creatures would surely be having major existential crises about their meaning and place in the universe. Cicadas spend the vast majority of their life underground in a grub-like existence before finally emerging for a glorious month under the summer sun. They know their job and get it done. What heroes. I sometimes question the meaning of life if it’s cloudy for a week straight in November. The reason that cicadas don’t have existential crises and humans do is a noble one, however: only people have been made in the image of God. And while that is a great gift, it can also feel like a mighty burden especially when our capacities aren’t directed in a Godward direction. Still, I feel sorry for the seemingly pointless life of those little bugs.

But are they really pointless? They do make more cicadas. And at the end of their lives, cicadas share their protein-rich bodies as major nutrition with all kinds of other creatures. Circle of life. And through their endless burrowing and re-emerging, the cicadas do a major service to the soil’s turnover and chemical composition. And, who knows, perhaps our Creator loves the song of the cicada, too. Maybe they have more going for them than I initially thought. Maybe we humans do, too!

– Pastor Gregg

* While crickets rub their wings together, male cicadas use a different, louder part of their bodies to make noise. Both sides of their thoraxes have thin, ridged areas of their exoskeletons called tymbals. Tymbals are made of a rubbery substance called resilin. The cicadas vibrate their tymbals very fast using muscles in their bodies. With every vibration, a sound wave is released, and cicadas can send out 300 to 400 sound waves per second! Females also make sounds to attract males, but they use their wings to make a clicking sound, rather than a high-pitched song like the males.

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