Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Not-Quite-Dead Cicada

Matthew has a new thing: he'll point to the eyes of a character in a book, or to the eyes on one of his toys, or to my eyes, or Glen's, and he'll say, — poking his finger into said eye — "eyes eyes eyes eyes eyes eyes eyes eyes eyes!" And he laughs and laughs. He never does this with say, a mouth, or an ear, or a toe. It's an eye thing, and that's that. We should probably discourage him, since it's a matter of time before someone loses an eye to this little game. But it's funny and he knows it, and it's cute to see his warped little sense of humor developing.

Last night, we were in the yard, and I found a dead cicada on the patio. It was perfect, as far as cicadas go, and I had no idea why it was dead. In addition to his fascination with eyes, Matthew has also shown an interest in bugs, too. He enjoys putting dead beetles and wasps into his little toy boats, so they can float around safely (as safe as a dead critter can be) in his pool. I picked up the cicada by the wing, and brought it over to Matthew, who was on the back porch, getting antsy to go in. He switched gears immediately, and sat down on the porch, looking down at the cicada, where I had placed it. "Ooh!" he said, "Da bug. Da bug!"

He pointed to the insect's eyes, and said, "eyes eyes eyes eyes eyes eyes eyes eyes eyes eyes!" Then, gingerly, he picked the cicada up, and examined its underbelly and its wings. He moved it around and made a little buzzing noise, as if it were still alive, and flying. Then, unexpectedly, the cicada did start buzzing, and poor little Matty didn't know what to do; he froze, and held on to the bug by its wing. And then he screamed, still holding the bug. The bug buzzed again, and Matty screamed again. I gently shook the cicada out of Matthew's hand, and Glen picked up Matty; I looked up at him, and he was crying in earnest now. The cicada continued to lay there, motionless.

We went back inside, and Matthew didn't want to let go of Glen; our poor boy was spooked. Glen was waiting for a friend in Australia to call him on Skype, and so they sat in front of the computer, shirtless, watching Phineas and Ferb videos on YouTube until Matty was ready to run around the house again.

This morning, Matty woke up at 5:45 a.m., and said, "Outside? Outside?" I tried to encourage him to go back to sleep, except I had to pee. But if I get up, the ever-faithful, Steve gets up, and if he's up, he probably should relieve himself, too. So, I figured, we might as well go outside, though it took a few minutes for the three of us to stumble downstairs and get our shoes on, and burst out of the back door this morning, to greet the world at the crack of dawn.

The cicada was where I left it on the back porch. The stray (and motherless) kittens were in the backyard, and Matthew loves them. The feeling is not mutual, since Matthew's love is loud and terrifying. I scooped up the cicada with Matthew's toy boat, and showed him, leaving the poor kitties to escape to the hosta.

"Da bug," he said, without any excitement. The tone in his voice said, "That was da tricky bastard that scared the heck out of me last night."

He pointed to the bug's wing, and said, "Da wing!" Then, he pointed to its eye, and said, "eyes eyes eyes eyes eyes eyes eyes eyes eyes!" He tried to take the cicada vessel out of my hands, but I discouraged him. "Remember what happened last night?" He looked at me with a face that said, "I think I can handle it this time," and so I let him take the boat containing the cicada, and he put it on his little car, and sent it down his slide. The boat and bug handled the ride very well, but I picked them up just the same, and put the craft off to the side. We went back inside.

I was outside again later in the day, and the bug was where I left him. I gently poked its leg, and it moved back, on its own, into its resting spot, giving me the sense that it was still alive. I've never looked so deep into the eyes of a cicada that I could possibly understand its essence, but they, too, looked like there was life left in them. What happened to this cicada? Did it just emerge from its nymph stage, exhausted and unable to fend for itself? Did it just escape an epic battle against a cicada killer wasp?* Have you ever watched a battle between a wasp and a cicada? It is every bit as epic as a fight between lion and zebra, except, I think, we feel more sympathy for the zebra, and we don't have to go to Africa to watch it. That's not to say I don't feel badly for cicadas; they aren't THAT much of a nuisance around here, and I kind of like their love songs in late summer.

Anyway, the cicada is still on its side on my patio table. Time will tell if this not-quite-dead cicada joins the ranks of the living for awhile, or not.


* Cicada killer wasps are considered beneficial, even though what they do is parasitic, and kind of gruesome. They are large and look menacing, but they rarely sting humans. A female wasp will fight a cicada, paralyze it, and drag it down into her lair, where the female lays her eggs — just a few eggs; generally under 5 — inside of the live, but motionless cicada. The eggs develop into larvae, within the cicada, eating it alive, until the young wasps emerge, leaving the empty cicada carcass behind.

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