Good Natured in St. Charles: Cicada embarks on unexpected adventure ride

Miles from home, a displaced cicada sits, silently, as his next adventure awaits.

The other day, I was puttering in the garage and listening, as I often do, to the radio. Perhaps more correctly called a boom box, the device dates to the 1980s and, like even the best of us, has gotten a bit temperamental in its old age.

Specifically, it gets staticky.

On that particular day, WXRT was playing “Under Pressure,” the song by David Bowie and Queen, but some persistent buzzes kept popping up, marring Freddie Mercury’s exquisite vocal range. I went over to the radio again, as I often do, to try and tune the station back in, but then realized the static actually was coming from somewhere else.

That’s when I remembered the cicada branches.

That morning, I’d taken a trip to my parents’ house in Wheaton. While there, immersed in cicada calls that topped 100dB, I noticed a lot of leafy twigs on the ground. With wind gusts topping 30 mph, I didn’t find the downed branches all that unusual, until the whole picture came together: Female cicadas depositing eggs inside the twigs at the ends of tree branches + strong winds = lots of weakened branch ends breaking off.

I was supposed to be cleaning inside at my folks’ house, but instead was outside, consumed by the thought of hundreds – no, thousands – of cicada eggs perishing after their parents waited 17 years to create them.

I didn’t have time to move all the branches, plus I wasn’t sure where to put them anyway. But the branches on the street? Surely, I could grab them and figure out later what their fate would be.

That’s how it came to be that, some hours later, I was hearing what I at first thought was radio static but what turned out to be the warning clicks and buzzes of a male Magicicada cassini. He must have stowed away in the branches that now were in the back of my car parked in my garage with – a key detail here – the windows down.

Folks, I tell you I looked over every inch of the vehicle’s interior. I may have mentioned this before in previous columns about various critters getting loose inside automobiles. But you really have no idea how many tiny openings, nooks and crevices a car’s interior has until you’re trying to find something small enough to fit inside any one of them.

I should probably note, too, that as I looked under the floor mats and seats, in the door compartments and cup holders, and along the ceiling and side panels, little Cassini made nary a peep. No staticky clicks, no staticky buzzes. Radio silence, if you will.

Alas, the grass needed mowing and the yard needed weeding. The cicada hunt would have to wait.

I closed up the car windows and was rolling the mower out toward the lawn when – you guessed it – two sharp buzzes stopped me in my tracks. But where, oh where, were they coming from?

Cupping my hands behind my ears, I listened intently in various areas of the garage. Had he flown to the shelves? The workbench? The snowblower? Nope, nope and nope.

Then, as I stood by the car hood, our friend buzzed again, from a place very close by. I looked at the grill of the car and, thankfully, found no maimed bugs there. I was about to pop the hood when one more well-timed rattly buzz caused me to look toward the windshield.

He wasn’t visible at first, but a closer inspection showed six tiny claws gripping the driver’s-side wiper arm. Aha! There he’d ridden, on the underside, at speeds up to 50+ mph all the way from Wheaton. No wonder he was buzzed.

The next conundrum occurred when I realized that, though safe, Cassini was miles away from any chance of procreation. We had virtually no periodical cicadas in our neighborhood. Seventeen years he’d waited for his one time to shine, and here he was in a cicada desert far away from millions of potential girlfriends.

I puzzled over this state of affairs as I put him in a bug jar and headed out to finally get the grass mowed.

Redemption came blessedly fast in an email that evening from my friend Sarah. She mentioned she was traveling to Wheaton the next day. She graciously agreed to chauffeur our little buddy so he could spend his last days back in the land of plenty.

Just over 24 hours after his adventure began, Cassini arrived at beautiful Adams Park in downtown Wheaton. Sarah said she placed him on a red oak tree where, she assured, he’d find lots of friends.

Miles from home, a displaced cicada sits, silently, as his next adventure awaits.

I listened to “Under Pressure” again this past weekend, static-free on YouTube, and was struck by how appropriate the lyrics are to the life of Cassini and, in fact, all 17-year cicadas. Besides good friends screaming and giving love one more chance, Bowie sings:

“This is our last dance

This is our last dance

This is ourselves

Under pressure”

Farewell, Magicicada, it’s been fun! See you, hopefully, in 2041!

• Pam Otto is the outreach ambassador for the St. Charles Park District. She can be reached at