Friday, July 10, 2009

An Underground Life

This is the time of year when I start seeing cicada shells everywhere, as the nymphs come up from below ground and make their last transformation from subterranean root feeders into winged, adults. The discarded skins cling to tree trunks and perennial stems, to the side of the house and to anything else where they can get a grip. Each morning there are more, joining the somewhat bizarre yard ornamentation. Sometimes I wonder, if I camped outside, would I wake up the next morning with a cicada shell clinging to me?

However, despite the perennial evidence of all these cicadas living underground around me, I've never seen a live cicada nymph in its natural habitat. Until yesterday.

I was digging a hole, to put in a Virginia sweetspire (Itea virginica), out in my new "rain garden" bed. This is a low area that carries rainwater running off our driveway and the higher parts of the yard toward the front prairie, and from there to the creek. Prairiewolf and I want to put in a series of flower beds with small "dams" to help keep some of that rainwater on the land, rather than having it all drain off and head towards the Gulf of Mexico. I'm calling these beds my "rain garden."

Anyway, I was digging a hole in this low area of the yard when I noticed that I'd opened up a miniature tunnel or cave with my shovel, about 6 or 7" down from the surface and about 1" in diameter. I looked at it for a moment, wondering what had caused it, and saw movement in the open space. This freaked me out just a bit. (I always have nightmarish visions of accidentally busting open a bumblebee or yellowjacket nest in such circumstances!) Nothing seemed poised to fly out of the opening, though, so I watched for a bit more. Finally, frustrated at not having a better view, I got a big flashlight and my camera from the house, then contorted myself into strange positions to try to use both to take a couple pictures. As I did so, I realized what I was looking at - the elusive live cicada nymph I'd never seen before! The claws were a dead giveaway.

This face is truly one that "only a mother could love", but I still find it fascinating. Hopefully I didn't cause this little guy any lasting harm. Based on size, he/she must have been close to making the final journey up into the night to assume adult form. One of these days, maybe the cicada song I hear will be sung by this strange creature who let me get a glimpse of his life, underground.

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