The life cycle of the cicada is unique among insects. A nymph tunnels up from deep in the soil, climbs onto a tree trunk or a plant stem — or anything else it can reach that offers a bit of vertical clearance — and then commences to shed its exoskeleton as dramatically and beautifully as any butterfly emerging from a chrysalis. The new adult appears white, almost translucent, but its armor hardens and darkens as the hours pass. Its eyes turn red. Its intricate wings unfurl.
Cicadas are not locusts. They don’t even belong to the same order of insects as locusts. Cicadas don’t strip fields of every grain of rice or wheat, as swarming locusts do. Cicadas don’t sting, and they don’t bite. The strawlike appendage they have instead of a mouth works only for inserting into tree bark. Cicadas don’t even hurt the trees. (Not the mature trees, at any rate; saplings should be protected with cheesecloth before the cicadas emerge.)
For the past 17 years, these insects have lived as nymphs deep beneath the soil, drinking sap from tree roots…
Well, it’s not singing so much as vibrating. And not love so much as sex. Their only purpose among us is to mate.