17-Year CICADA


Cie Simurro ~ Thunderbird Starwoman

Do you love our Mother, the Earth? Your strong connection with her can help you steward the creatures, plants, and minerals with whom we share life. Perhaps your efforts will bring safety and environmental change for wildlife. Find your song, and live your truth, no matter your past. I am Cicada of the Periodical kind. I am burrowed in the ground for 17 years – enough time to leave the past behind. My Medicine will help you heal your past, and your unconscious fears. Do not be afraid to rise up from beneath old patterns, break out of that which binds you, and enjoy your best life.

Before I begin writing a new Totems article, I tune into inner guidance to see what animal, bird, insect, etc. wants to be written about. By doing this, the timing and the medicine of that totem is always the one that perfectly suits the energy of what people most need to learn about at that time to give them guidance and encouragement. This time, deciding which totem to write about, happened a bit differently. I had almost finished writing about Seahorse, (which will follow Cicada, in the next issue of Wisdom) when suddenly I understood that cicada was the right totem for this time. For those of us who have been living under a rock and haven’t heard, by the time you read about cicada, billions of them will have emerged, en masse, in the Northeast from 17 years living underground.

“But I hear them every summer outside my window,” you say, but the truth is annual (dog-day) cicadas don’t usually sing. You’re probably hearing crickets or katydids. However, other groups called Periodical cicadas emerge in cycles – every 13 years in the South and Midwest, and every 17 years in Northeastern states. Unfortunately, entomologists are saying that Massachusetts is probably too far north to be able to experience them, even with the high spring temperatures we’ve been having. If you live in NY, NJ, CT, or PA you’ll be able to see and hear them. You will hear pulsing, undulating cicada songs that rise in waves, invites tons of other cicadas to join in, crests, and then gradually falls off.

Each brood of periodical cicadas is identified with a Roman numeral. This 17-year brood of cicadas is called Brood X (pronounced Brood Ten). Brood X — genus Magicicada – is one of the most widespread of the cicada broods. For the past 17 years, these insects have lived as nymphs deep beneath the soil, sucking sap from the roots of trees. They began their lives by falling to the ground from the trees where they hatched, and then burrowed underground. After 17 years, they come forth when the soil eight inches down, reaches a temperature of 64 degrees, often after a soaking rain. The number 17 is significant as it directs us to be hopeful and optimistic about the success of our future plans, and 1+7=8, and 8 indicates financial success.

Although periodical cicadas were first reported by the Plymouth colony pilgrims in 1634, of course, indigenous Native Americans had always been aware of them. In 1715, Philadelphians reported specifically about Brood X. Though their singing is loud and jarring (up to 100 decibels), the emergence of 17-year cicadas brings benefits too. Mammals, birds, fish, and reptiles – even dogs, spiders, and some humans will eat them (tastes like snails, I hear). They add to the health and numbers of the creatures that feed on them. Also, the holes in the ground they emerge from are deep, and about 5/8 of an inch wide, so cicadas also help aerate the soil. And when the females lay their eggs in young trees, doing so prunes the trees, resulting in more flowers and fruit the following year. Dying, as they do in large numbers, nourishes the ground, providing nitrogen and other nutrients, thereby enriching the soil. Those with a cicada totem are often late bloomers, but when they do eventually emerge from their shells, so to speak, they quickly grow into their talents and abilities, and fulfill their purpose in life, often becoming a blessing to the world. When cicada appears, there’s lots of happiness, liberally spread around. Perhaps you are now able to meet up with, and spend time with old friends and family from whom you’ve been separated since the pandemic began. That’s Good Medicine!

There are over 3,000 species of cicadas (a.k.a. harvestflys). Brood X is the largest of the 17-year cicada broods. It includes three species with synchronized life spans. Interestingly, with all those cicadas flying everywhere, the males singing their deafening songs, you would think the three species would become confused, and interspecies mating would take place; however, each species has their own distinctive song. Furthermore, each species sings at a different time of the day, so there’s no overlap. One group sings in the morning, another around noon, and the third, in the afternoon. And, how’s this for performance virtuosity – each group member is so perfectly synchronized with the others, they sound like one single voice! In someone with cicada as a totem, communication is highly developed, but there is a caution here. One would be well-advised to learn to express oneself vocally without yelling at people, monopolizing the conversation, or bullying.

When the nymphs eventually tunnel to the surface, and climb the trees, they are already adults. They come out through a slit in the back of their larval skin. Then, it takes about five days for their exoskeletons to harden so they can fly, and the males start singing their mating songs. At this time, if you look carefully, you might find abandoned skin casings. People are posting pictures on social media. Periodical cicadas look very different from the greenish-brown annual cicadas. Their stout black bodies, orangey-red veined wings, and broad heads with bulbous red eyes are distinctive looking. Those large compound eyes give them wide peripheral vision, while three small, simple eyes in the center of the head called ocelli enable them to detect light from dark, and watch for predators from above.

If this totem is in your life, you may have had to wait for what you want to manifest until you learned that you can’t manifest what you don’t believe you can have, don’t feel you deserve, or that you must know in advance how something will manifest. Far better for us to be able to feel that our desire is already on its way to manifesting. We have to state our desire, let it go, and be happily expectant it’s begun to manifest. However, we should also be patient, trusting that what we need and what we want will manifest in right timing. Even though it takes periodic cicadas 17 years, ultimately they are successful at fulfilling their purpose and their natures. So can we!

When cicadas emerge, folks may find themselves feeling flirtatious, or a kind of urgency or immediateness to finding a mate or lover. The relationship may not be permanent, but it can produce high spirits and exuberance nonetheless. Though being inundated by cicadas may feel a bit like a sign of the Apocalypse, cicadas are not a plague of locusts. Though some people think that cicadas are locusts, they are not; they are related to leafhoppers. They don’t eat crops like locusts do; in fact, they don’t eat at all. They dine only on liquids, and their mouth parts are modified for sucking, forming a hollow tube like a soda straw through which liquids are sucked up. So, they don’t damage trees; they don’t sting, bite, or carry disease. They emerge for one reason, and one reason only – to mate.

So, what exactly happens when conditions are right and cicadas emerge from the ground, and climb to the tops of trees? Well, for several weeks, the air is filled with the shrill, cacophonous calls of the males, whose sound has been likened to the creaking of an unoiled door hinge! They are the only ones that make mating calls; females do not sing. Sound-producing structures on either side of male abdomens called tymbals enable them to make sound. Here’s how it works: attached to the tympanal muscles is a drumhead with resonators – a kind of eardrum, if you will, that communicates vibrations to cells. When those muscles are tightened, it produces considerable tension on the drumhead. When the muscles are released, the drumhead hits the membranes lining the abdominal walls, producing the cicada’s shrill, buzzing “song.

Though that song attracts the females, they only stay with the males long enough to obtain sperm to fertilize their eggs. The female’s saw-like ovipositor deposits the eggs in punctures made in the twigs of trees or shrubs – as many as thirty eggs per puncture. The eggs hatch six to ten weeks later, and the tiny nymphs drop to the ground and burrow into the soil for the next 17 years. Then, as suddenly as they appeared, the parent cicadas vanish because – spoil alert – the adult cicadas then die, all at around the same time.

Even while they’re alive, the life of a cicada is not all fun and games. After stinging an adult cicada, large black-and-yellow female cicada killer wasps will use their stinging, piercing ovipositors to attach their egg to the body of a cicada to be host to wasp larva. When the wasp’s egg hatches, the larva slowly eats the cicada, while making sure not to kill it. After the wasp is grown, it will fly away, leaving the cicada to die. Cicada totem reminds us to appreciate every moment, and that every death is the beginning of a new cycle of life, either here in the physical or in the spirit world.

This is an auspicious time for the appearance of cicada totem, as people are coming out of a time of seclusion, isolation and loneliness. Though we may still be besieged by grief, we can once again dare to believe in a world that holds hope for more acts of kindness and peace in a new era.


Cie Simurro ~ Thunderbird Starwoman has been a Healer, Writer, Minister, Advocate and Steward for the natural world for over 45 years; author of this column for 21 years. Send me your email address if you wish to be notified with a link to Wisdom when a new Totems article comes out.

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Phone: 413 625-0385 or email: cie@ciesimurro.com

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