Can you keep it down? I’m trying to read.



One of the joys of the warmer months is reading outside, I’m sure you would all agree.  This year, however, it’s been more challenging than usual because I’ve had a lot of visitors.  A LOT of them!

In certain sections of the Northeast of the U.S. where I now live, we have been peacefully invaded by periodical cicadas.  These extraordinary creatures only come out every 17 years!

They lay dormant in the ground as little nymphs feeding on the sap from tree roots.  And then, they all come out to mate; their mating song lasting all day.  As there are so many of them, it gets quite loud (collectively, they sound a bit like a giant, muted car alarm.  Individually, it’s a cuter “dooooo-weeep” – well, that’s my best approximation).

As I am also trying to prevent my dog from eating too many of them, it is getting hard to concentrate on my book.

Empty cicada skins ©readinginterrupted

Empty cicada skins ©readinginterrupted

After they mate, the females lay their eggs in little slits in tree branches and when the nymphs hatch later this summer, they will go back into the ground and settle in for the next 17 years.

It’s quite amazing and I feel so honored to be a witness to it!

But, for the next couple of weeks, I think I’ll read indoors…




88 thoughts on “Can you keep it down? I’m trying to read.

  1. I remember seeing one of these for the first time after I moved to Texas. Scared the crap out of me till I found out they were ‘harmless’. I must have picked the year that they came out to mate too because there were lots of them! (I’m aging myself here.) 🙂

    • Thank goodness they are harmless, I agree, as there are so many of them! I believe that the ones we have are a slightly different species than the ones in Texas, but quite similar. They have no sense of human presence so will just land on you at any given moment (or in your plate if you’re eating outside – you could add some recipes for your blog, hahaha! Some people eat them but I haven’t been tempted!).

    • I went from being distracted by my fascination with the mating noise to being distracted by my annoyance at them landing on me and my book as I was reading as the weeks went by. Apparently, I will soon be distracted by the smell of their decaying corpses. Oh dear! 🙂

  2. Oh my! Yes, take cover! Our family will be visiting the northeast in August. By then, I hope they will all be back in the ground. We’ve been having an ongoing discussion about the biological origins of this phenomenon. If you Google “cicada,” you’ll find a lovely explanation of the 13 and 17-year cycles (both prime numbers) that take into account short term (predator satiation) and long term (prevention of hybridization) survival strategies. But when you’re Googling, please do it inside! :o)

    • Yes, I read about that theory as well – it’s so fascinating and makes a lot of sense. I think that they will be gone by August as they are starting to die off but I’m sure you’ll see some of the many cicada skins on the ground at the very least. What’s funny is that some towns have a lot, like mine, and then 5 minutes away in the neighboring town, there are none. There are odd, localized, high density areas (depending, in part, on whether or not the ground has been disturbed a lot and other factors). You’ll have to let me know what you see when you come East in August.

  3. For me, as a kid growing up in Milwaukee, cicadas were the sound of summer. I used to marvel at the carapaces we’d find on the ground. They aren’t here in Seattle, and although I don’t miss them, I miss their sound.

    • If there were fewer of them, the sound would be more melodic, I’m sure (like the crickets we have in August or the cigales in France). There are just too many of this particular species!

    • That’s the spirit! I found that after about a week, I started getting used to the constant hum. The only time it bothers me now is when we try to have a conversation in the woods and we have to almost shout in order to hear ourselves over the mating cries. Vive l’amour! 😉

  4. Love the cicada ghosts! And IQ84 — my potential summer reading, though I think I need to read Kafka On The Shore first. (Only have Wind-Up Bird and Hard-Boiled Wonderland under my belt.)

    • Cicada ghosts… oh dear, I hope I won’t be haunted!

      I’m nearing the end of the last volume of 1Q84 and I was happy I’ve read most of Murakami’s works first for some reason. I think it’s because I found the plot, so far, a little different than I’m used to so my anchor has been my familiarity with the way he writes his characters (if that makes any sense). I liked Norwegian Wood, After the Quake, Sputnik Sweetheart too. When you read it, let me know what you thought of it.

  5. We survived a cicada infestation a few years ago in MD. I am grateful we are not part of this year’s geographical storm. Don’t know why, but we aren’t. I think we will get them again in a about seven years. In the meantime, read inside, and text each other when in the woods!

    • I had read that there were also 7-year cicadas too. How interesting!

      Texting in the woods – great idea! Fortunately, things are getting quieter now as the mating is slowing down…

  6. I am trying to imagine the noise and the invasion. Is it worse than flies or mosquitoes swarming about? And I am laughing at your dog eating them. They must be tasty, or perhaps your dog can’t stand the noise and is trying to shut up the nuisance to its ears.

    • They fly around one by one rather than in groups and mainly high up (although sometimes right in your face as you are walking your dog). What they do is cover the bark of trees and bushes by the thousands so if you have a garden and live near woods as I do, it gets very noisy. Then they fly around tree to tree or around the bark looking for a mate, and voila!

      Hahaha! It thought my dog liked the taste but maybe she’s just tired of the noise and sight of them – that’s so funny!

  7. I just had to show your photos to my gf she has never seen them at all. I grew up mostly in the south and had told her about picking the empty shells off pine trees as kids. I actually love the sounds they make as they are a wonder of nature!

    • That’s so funny that you used to pick off the shells as a kid!

      I love your website by the way! You’re a great photographer. I tried to leave a comment but for some reason it didn’t work. I’ll try again on another day but wanted to let you know already (I especially love the shot of the boardwalk).

  8. A blog on the cicadas; that is wonderful! It is a great experience to have them all around! Just for a few weeks, they sing their joy of being alive, they are completely harmless and then they go back to the earth!
    You will soon be able to read in the garden!

    • Aren’t we lucky to be experiencing this? You are so right, their song reflects their joy of being alive as well as a call to mate – how wonderful!

  9. Ohh that’s wonderful!
    You will be known to generations of Cicada as the reading lady 😉 One fine way to be remembered for a long time. If they are anything like the tribes in jungles here, they might take you as a goddess 🙂

    And whether you accept it or not, your passion for reading has ‘infected’ some of them already 🙂

    • I like the idea that if I’m still around here in 17 years that the cicada nymphs and I might remember each other- that’s a great thought! But I don’t want them to worship me!! I’m too much in awe of them anyway…

  10. How fascinating… I’d read about them, but never heard anyone tell of what happens when they reupt on the scene. Do they all do the same seventeen year cycle, or are there shifts???

    • The ones we have here all come out at the same time, every 17 years, in the thousands – it’s incredible. I read that in other parts of the world, there are other similar cicadas that come out every 7 years and others that come out every 13 years. And then you have the other kind of cicadas that come out every year in some places but those are much fewer in number that the periodical cicadas.

  11. Wow! I never knew this… I can’t believe that they only come up every 17 years. They wait all that time to mate – I hope it’s worth it. (Bit of a bummer if your dog gets to them before they can manage it!)

    • The 17 year cycle is quite extraordinary and judging by the frequent mating I see around me, it seems to be worth the wait. Apparently they come out in such excessive numbers knowing that some will be eaten by predators, but my dog only started to eat them later on in the cycle when they started dying off so I wonder if they had already mated by then? Perhaps they were riper and tastier then too….

  12. I’ve always heard cicadas, never seen them. I would’ve freaked out if one of them had jumped on my book! How can you even sleep at night with so many of them around?

    • Fortunately, they are very passive and don’t bite so although they do tend to fly on you from time to time, it’s easy to just pick them up and throw them off of you. There are so many of them that after the initial first week, we’ve really just gotten used to living with them. Having said that, we do sleep with the windows closed as I wouldn’t want them singing, mating, and laying eggs in the house!

    • Yes, some people eat them (I think they roast them? But I’m not sure). All the dogs in the neighborhood have been gaining weight as they love eating them so much!

      Love and romance is definitely all around us!

    • They would definitely be scary of they were aggressive in any way, but they are very docile (they don’t bite and are extremely passive). And there are so many of them that even my friends who tend to get scared of insects have gotten used to them now so you would be fine too after a while 🙂

    • That’s what fascinates me the most, Dianne, the fact that this type of cicadas stay underground for such a long- and specific- period of years… just amazing!

  13. Would that it had been warm enough here in the UK to read outside. There is some talk of it getting above 20C tomorrow so just maybe…… I’ve just been listening to a report on the news of temperatures in the high 40s in the Western States so maybe you’re hogging all the warm weather on your side of the Atlantic?

    • Fortunately it’s not as hot on the East as it has been on the West coast! But I do hope you will have a warmer (and dryer!) summer than last year in England! I lived in England for some years and enjoyed some lovely summers there. I will try to send some warm weather your way!

  14. I love cicada summers. I know that sounds weird. I’m not usually a “white-noise” kind of person, but the loud buzzing hum of them is soothing somehow. When it’s really bad in Ohio, you can barely hear over top of them. But it gives me some heightened sense of summer. I like their “summer song” as somehow else so eloquently called it. But you’re right– not always easy to read through.

  15. Oh my..!! its for the first time I got to see so much of them..!! It makes sense why you getting disturbed:)

  16. Letizia, adoramos seu post. Passagem preferida: “As I am also trying to prevent my dog from eating too many of them, it is getting hard to concentrate on my book.” :))

  17. To me the sound of cicadas is sound of extremely hot weather. The first time I heard them was in Costa Rica during the hottest part of the day. There is no twilight that close to the equator. The minute the sun went down the cicadas stopped. It was like turning out a light. I love the sound… but not the temperature. V.

    • ‘Turning out a light’ – exactly! Our cicadas have gone now, back in the ground for another 17 years, and when they left it was like someone had turned out a light, it was that sudden (or turned off a radio).

    • All year long, oh dear!!! I don’t know how you do it! It was great fun to have them for a month but when they went back into the ground I was so happy to hear the birds again 🙂

  18. Hmm, I only got to know about these cicadas ;and their mysterious characteristics when I wrote a haiku for Carpe Diem based on the prompt ‘Cicada’. Hope they are gone now or dead now so you can enjoy the outdoors 🙂

    • I remember reading that lovely haiku of yours – it was just in the middle of our cicada visit! They are all gone now so I can read outside, only to be interrupted by the lovely chirping of the birds 🙂

    • In France (where I am originally from) we have cigales which are similar – in the same family- but nothing like the quantity we had here. That’s what really set this visit apart – there were just so many – that’s why it was so loud. But it was interesting and only lasted a month in the end!

  19. When I was growing up in southwestern Kansas, which is part of the Ozarks, we called them Katy-dids, and their summer songs were the breezy melodies–sometimes very loud layers of melodies–and one of the parts I miss most out here in Colorado.
    In third grade, my friends and I had a contest to see how many “shells” we could collect. When we dumped out our jars, I was hoping I’d won. But I had only 39, and the boy at the end of the street had over 50! (but I think his brother helped him…)

    • I’ve read about Katy-dids in novels but never really understood what they were! I hadn’t realized they were a type of cicada!

      I agree, his brother definitely helped him 🙂

    • Chickens are a great idea! My dog was getting sick eating the few I would let her eat so I think I would need a whole coup of chickens- hahaha!

  20. I’ve never heard of cicadas, or their sounds, before I watched the film on DVD A Summer in Genoa with Colin Firth. Your post here is interesting, for it brings back memories of that film, and the reality that cicadas can be found much closer to home than Genoa, Italy, albeit I still live thousands of miles from you in Western Canada. Thanks for stopping by Ripple Effects. Glad you’ve found me through Claire of Word by Word. And I’m so glad too that I’ve found you. 😉

    • We also have cigales in France (where I’m originally from) which are quite similar, but the cicadas we had this year were remarkable by their sheer number! SO many of them, everywhere! I will have to watch A Summer in Genoa again as it has been a long time.

      I only know Western Canada a little (one visit to Vancouver and Whistler), but I liked it a lot – lovely people and beautiful scenery (nice combination!).

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