The Great Southern Brood

“……there was a numerous company of Flies, which were like for bigness unto Wasps or Bumble-Bees, they came out of little holes in the ground, and did eat up the green things, and made such a constant yelling noise as made all the woods ring of them, and ready to deaf the hearers;……”

“……there was such a swarm of a certain sort of insects in that English colony, that for the space of 200 miles they poysond and destroyed all the trees of that country. There being found innumerable little holes in the ground, out of which those insects broke forth in the form of maggots, which turned into flyes that had a kind of taile or sting, which they struck into the tree, and thereby envenomed and killed it..”

The excerpts above were taken from accounts by New England Colonists in the late 17th century. The shock of encountering the deafening blanket of the cicada's call for the very first time must have shaken the colonists, wary of so many new sights and sounds in the New world. 

The image that you see above is of a 13-year periodical cicada of Brood XIX. In May of 2011, cicadas from this particular group began to emerge all over the Southeast, Alabama included. By June, the cicadas had begun to die off en masse. 

Periodical cicadas are divided into 13-year and 17-year groups, each corresponding to a particular "brood." Broad XIX covers almost all of the Southeast, including Alabama, Arkansas, Tennessee, Georgia, Texas, North Carolina, Missouri, Kentucky, Indiana, South Carolina, and Virginia. The immature (nymph) cicada finds roots on which to feed underground and will spend anywhere from 2 to 17 years feeding and tunneling below the earth's surface. Upon emergence, the nymph quickly finds and attaches itself to a tree to begin sloughing its exoskeleton. When the nymph has fully freed itself, it begins its new life as an adult cicada and the process starts all over again! 

Your next chance to see, or hear, Brood XIX will be in 2024. For now, they wait below the surface, till they emerge to sing their song once more. In our fast-paced world of instantaneous connection and ephemeral pleasure, we should consider the time-scale of the cicada, its rhythms and reliance on the earth itself as time-piece.