“She’s looking for Mr. Good Enough,” says Cole Gilbert, an associate professor of entomology at Cornell University. “Seems to me like she’s not putting a lot of thought into this.”
Not a lot of thought? She has had 17 years to dream of the perfect male. We know how they have slowly counted out the years, but why the long, long wait?
The survival strategy for the species is to swamp hungry predators. Birds, lizards, squirrels, raccoons, foxes, ants and spiders gorge themselves until they can’t stand to look at another cicada. Any stragglers coming a year later, or a year earlier, in a smaller cohort would all be gobbled up. (Cicadas are easy to catch and satisfyingly crunchy.) The insects fit into the web of life by being food, and the masses of leftover dead bodies add a pulse of nitrogen to forest soil.
This has been going on for a lot longer than human beings have had wedding planners. (They should, by the way, have paid more attention to what year it was. Check those calendars for 2030.) About 4 million years ago, the strategic cicadas diverged from their brethren that didn’t stay underground as long.
The buzzing, the being bumped into, the picking them off your gown, the insects in the salad — these seem paltry concerns in the big scheme of things. (And you could ask yourself some meaningful questions about your fellow human beings, such as, “Will a cicada get drunk and proposition my father’s second wife?”) These creatures have waited 17 years to mate; how hard would it be to delay your wedding a few weeks?
Constance Casey writes the Species column for Landscape Architecture Magazine and the series “Revolting Creatures” for Slate.