Truly, a bug

While redoing some drainage channels around the house, something in the dirt seemed a little too undirtlike [spellcheck doesn’t like that word, but I’ve long since learned that spellcheck is bigoted] so I scooped it up. Lo, it was a cicada, the first I’ve seen in the earlier instar nymph form, the phase that stays underground for freaking years and feeds on tree sap.

unearthed cicada nymph
Not that you can really tell much difference from the form that emerges from the ground and molts into the adult in the summer months – except for the eyes, it pretty much looks just like the exoskeleton it blithely leaves behind on tree trunks, a literal litterbug (unless you count the bugs that live in leaf litter, but I don’t.) I always thought the live ones would be more colorful, or striated or something – the reality did not justify the breathless anticipation.

This one was moving sluggishly at first – well, at always – but as it warmed up a little indoors it got slightly more active, especially when I was cleaning it up. This took place with an eyedropper and an artist’s paintbrush, and it fended off such ministrations around the head and mouth. At one point, dabbing it with a cotton swab to soak up excess moisture, it seized the cotton tip in those nasty little forelegs and wouldn’t let it go.

cicada nymph on tree root
For illustrative and educational purposes, I perched it on a tree root, which is where it would spend the majority of its life, drinking up sap and hashing out very long poems. Still annoyed at being disturbed, and likely unable to see anything more than light through those eyes if that, it kept its midlegs raised in either defensive posture or a rude gesture – I’m inclined towards the latter, since I’ve seen bees do this too when another encroaches on the flower its feeding from.

While I would like to watch this one develop, or at least emerge from the ground and climb its tree for the final molt into adult instar, I can’t think of any way of accomplishing this, so I’m simply going to return it to the location where I found it, now that the digging is done. It’s not like there’s a shortage of them come summer, though I’m still frustrated with coming across a swarm of them all molting at once, literally dozens, when my camera was miles away (obligations with friends – see how badly those can turn out?) One of these days I’ll get the whole sequence.

Bolstered, however, by actually finding something to photograph in January, I went out with the flashlight to see if anything else was stirring – spiders can be surprisingly hardy in cooler weather, for instance. Alas, all I found were a few centipedes and some snails, which I brought inside for a brief photo session and a race, until I caught myself doping one of the snails and forfeited the race.

snail race

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