June 8, 2021
A stroll through the Tawes Garden & Arboretum is noisier than usual but no, there's no heavy construction underway. Instead the steady, high-pitched drone emanating from the tree canopy is caused by the 17-year cicadas now making their foreordained appearance, right on schedule. These large, handsome bugs (and they are bugs, not beetles entomologically speaking) have black bodies, amber-yellow legs, and glittery, transparent wings also veined and edged in amber. Their bulging carnelian-red eyes do indeed fit the bug-eyed description, but overall they look much more like ornately crafted enamel jewelry than monsters.
While there are many cicada species world-wide the 17-year (and 13-year) periodical cicadas are native solely to the Eastern U.S. They started tunneling out of the ground at the Tawes Garden in late May and will be with us until about the end of June. Their astonishing numbers are thought to be an evolutionary strategy designed to overwhelm their many predators and ensure that some will survive to produce the next generation. Meanwhile, it's an all-you-can-eat buffet for the resident wildlife.
Construction of the Tawes Garden & Arboretum began in 1976, so it has already seen two previous cycles of the 17-year cicadas. However, the next generation isn't due to make its appearance until 2038. You might want to catch them now.