As you probably know by now, the East Coast is on its way to being hit by a massive cicada invasion. They've already started crawling out out the earth in Staten Island and won't stop crawling out of the earth until the sky is darkened by billions (literally billions) of them. If you live in this part of the world, then it's likely that you'll find yourself coming into frequent contact with the insect. In fact, you might even find yourself sharing a living space with one.
Keep in mind that this is a hard situation for the both of you — you don't like being under siege by giant bugs and they don't like anything that's not having loud sex with other cicadas. Unfortunately, you're going to have to be the responsible being and step into the role of educator here. Your new cicada neighbors have been underground for seventeen years, living with a brood that has its own way of life that's probably very strange to us. Think about how you'd want to be treated if you were visiting the cicada underworld and now try to extend those same courtesies to our winged guests.
Remember: Their ways aren't weird or wrong, they're just different.
If welcoming the cicadas with open arms is still confusing for you, don't worry about it. We humans have been sharing the planet with one another for hundreds of thousands of years now and we still have a hard time accepting each other, so it makes sense that you'd struggle with embracing an entirely new species. Regardless, you should do your best not to be closed minded and to always be kind.
Here's a handy guide to help you learn to accept and welcome your cicada summer guests.
1. Learn a few basic cicada phrases.
Sure, they're on our turf and they should learn to use human language, but think of how excited they feel when instead of screaming "Get the fuck off me!" you instead yell "CK-CK-CK-CK-CK-CK-CK-CK-CK-CK-CK-CK." Haven't you ever met someone who spoke your language when you were abroad and feeling lost? It's a wonderfully comforting experience. Why not give a similar gift to the cicadas?
2. If a cicada offends you, it's probably an accident.
I spent a period of my high school years living in Rome. Right after I had first moved there — when I barely spoke Italian — I accidentally offended my friend Roberto by jokingly calling him stupid. What I didn't realize at the time was that, while in America "stupid" is a fairly innocuous insult, it's actually considered a super shitty thing to call someone in Italy. Luckily, he was very forgiving of my misunderstanding and let it go.
Let's all take a page out of Roberto's book and extend a similar understanding to the accidental faux pas of the cicada.
Cicadas do not intentionally bite or draw blood from people. Generally, the most harm they'll cause is by physically flying into you and while that can be a little uncomfortable, it's not that big of a deal. Occasionally, a cicada will mistake you for a tree branch and try to leech on to you. Much like the sting of my insult to Roberto, this can hurt slightly, but try not to freak out about it. Brush it away and explain — calmly and slowly — that you are not a tree. Chances are that they'll be terribly embarrassed and apologetic about the misunderstanding. ("CK-CK-CK-CK-CK" is cicada for "I'm sorry.")
3. Different cicadas have different backgrounds.
Not all cicadas are exactly alike. Cicadas come from various regions and broods. For example, the ones currently emerging are Brood II periodical cicadas, but the ones emerging next year (in a different part of the world) will be from a different brood entirely.
Assuming that all cicadas come from the same brood is like assuming that all human beings come from Sweden. Try to be respectful of each cicada's own unique culture.
4. Remember that no guest stays forever.
Hosting is hard, but try to exercise patience. These cicadas will only be on the East Coast until the end of the summer when they will all be dead.
You know that old finger bowl story? Rumor has it that following a reception thrown by Queen Victoria, a guest who was unfamiliar with England's post dinner finger bowl custom accidentally used his finger bowl to drink from rather than clean his hands with. To not make him uncomfortable or embarrassed, Queen Victoria then drank the water from her own finger bowl. Now apply this to molting.
Any of us who have ever accidentally gotten our periods on a seat cushion or clogged the toilet of a guest bathroom know that leaving behind physical parts of yourself, while natural, can be very embarrassing. Cicadas feel the same way about molting. You might find it gross to find a perfectly formed cicada shell, but the fact is that they can't help it.
Like with Queen Victoria and the finger bowl, try to make your cicada guests feel less awkward about leaving behing their shells by leaving behind shells of your own. You can do this the budget conscious way by leaving behind dead skin, hair and nail clippings, but — really — now is not the time to skimp on funds. Consider having a rubber skin suit made that you can drape over tree branches for cicadas to find. Trust me, considering the gratitude and relief that they'll feel, the suit will pay for itself.
Image by Jim Cooke; source images via Shutterstock