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My Turn: Plagued by cicadas, for decades, she learned all about them

A molting cicada nymph sheds its crinkly shell.

A molting cicada nymph sheds its crinkly shell. Credit: NEWSDAY / Bill Davis

In spring last year, my daughter texted me an article in Newsday about cicadas. We lived in Franklin Square for 35 years and swore that our backyard was the Grand Central Terminal for the town’s cicadas.

As a kid living in Whitestone, I would hear them high up in our oak tree and my mother would predict, “It will be a hot day today; no rain; the heat bugs are singing.”

I never saw one of these heat bugs until I moved to my home in Franklin Square. My first encounter was seeing one of them attach itself to the kitchen screen and make its loud, buzzing noise. I later learned that only the male makes the noise; his way of attracting a female for mating. I never saw such a big, ugly bug in my life, and it was one of many more encounters I would have through the years!

The back of our yard was all hedges. Come the beginning of July, there would be big holes in the ground, which I later learned were where the nymphs came up from.

The nymph has a brown shell with legs (very ugly, too) and the nymph would look for something that it could crawl on so that it could shed its crinkly shell and morph into the ugly bug it was to become.

Does it sound like I know a lot about these bugs? Well, back then, we didn’t have a clothes dryer and so on nice days, I would hang out my clothes. It didn’t take long before I realized that cicadas like to land on dark clothing. They don’t see well and a big, dark pair of dungarees or shirt would look enough like a tree to them. And there they would sit, hoping to attract a lady friend!

Unfortunately for me, when I would go to take my clothes in at the end of the day, I would often find an ugly cicada transferring himself from the clothes to me! And after realizing I was not going to have a heart attack, and that this ugly bug was not flying off me as I ran around the backyard, I would muster up my courage and swat at it.

They have sticky feet, and I soon learned that you needed to give a good swat before they would vacate! That, or I would send my brave kids out with a baseball bat and have them swing at the clothesline to clear the area of all cicadas. Yes, I really did do that as well as have them swing at the hedges before I went out to hang my wash to make sure none were lying in wait!

Cicadas only live to mate. The female will deposit her eggs in a tree trunk and the process of eggs developing into nymphs, takes 17 years — or so they say. We had them every year — some years were worse (or better) than others but they came every July and lasted until the first week of September.

They don’t eat and so by the time summer was ending, they were weak and I actually saw them fall off trees when I was out for a walk. One time I was sitting in St. Catherine of Sienna Church at Mass, and there on the floor, two pews away, was a near-dead cicada walking ever so slowly, but thank God (and I did), he never reached me!

Birds will catch them but I often saw cicadas humming away and the birds just turning up their beaks at having them for a meal. My neighbor told me once her cat brought one into their house and laid it at her feet — a trophy I guess for good hunting! And I guess you would have to add that kids with baseball bats are also a detriment to a cicada’s longevity.

We moved to Old Bethpage 10 years ago and believe it or not, I have yet to see one cicada. I hear them so they are here but must be high up in the trees. Like my mother, I predict a hot day with no rain when I hear their loud humming, which is really the sound they make when they rub their wings together. My daughter texted the article from Newsday to her brothers and sisters with a note: “Can’t wait!”

I’m sure she was just kidding!

Fay Scally,

Old Bethpage,

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