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For cicadas, the party's nearly over

Macaulay CulkinUniversity of Maryland, College Park

I smell death in the air.

Where once the trees were alive with noise, now there's only the labored wheezing of a few desperate holdouts.

Where once there was the haunting beauty of pale-green bodies and translucent wings and beady red eyes, now the sidewalks are littered with tiny brown carcasses.

It's all over.

The Grim Insect Reaper is at the door.

Oh, god, this isn't another stupid cicada column, is it?

Man, are you milking this thing, or what? What's this, your fifth or sixth column on cicadas?

Um, actually it's my fourth.

What did you want me to write about, the tax deficit?

Besides, you know how it is. If there's still candy in the pinata, you take another whack at it.

Anyway, getting back to cicadas, Mike Raupp, the crack University of Maryland entomologist and leading cicada expert, figures the little buggers will be around until at least Friday.

But shortly after that, the bugler plays "Taps."

"There's no more recruitment," Raupp said of the cicadas, lapsing into either entomology-speak or ad-lingo for the U.S. Army. "All we're having now is die-off."

"No more recruitment" - what a beautiful term.

Actually, what Raupp means is: No more cicadas are emerging from the ground to join the ranks of adults up in the trees.

Sadly, at least if you're a cicada, this also means the end of the mating ritual.

No more Johnny Mathis albums, no more champagne, no more moonlight strolls on tree branches before the two cicada lovers throw themselves at each other in a writhing fit of passion that ... whew.

Is it me, or did it get warm in here?

Now there is nothing left but death, and the end of the sweet havoc caused by their presence.

Yeah, right. That's another thing. It's incredible how much you jackals in the media hyped these cicadas.

The noise was going to be deafening. They were going to be so huge you couldn't sit outside without body armor. Little kids and dogs were going to freak out.

And none of that happened.

Well, OK.

But it could have.

Actually, there didn't seem to be as many cicadas flying around this time as there were the last time they emerged, in 1987. Then there were so many they blotted out the sun.

OK, I'm sorry. That was another exaggeration.

Sometimes you get on a roll with these exaggerations and you don't know when to stop.

And the noise level this time didn't seem quite as annoying.

Or maybe they were just starting to grow on me.

Look, if I'd been holed up in the ground for 17 years and someone said, "Boys, it's party time!" I'd be a little loud, too.

Please. Spare us any weepy nonsense about how you're going to miss the cicadas and you can't wait until they return in 17 years to renew the grand cycle of life and death that is nature and blah, blah, blah.

OK, you're right.

Who am I kidding?

I won't miss 'em at all.

To me, they were nothing more than four columns with no heavy lifting.

Plus, you tend not to get nostalgic about something that leaves you raking stinky brown shells out of your yard for the next couple of months.

I won't be circling the days on the calendar till the cicadas return, either.

Are you kidding?

The next time they're here, I'll be 134 years old and slumped on a nursing-home couch watching Macaulay Culkin announce his retirement on the Tonight show.

Still, for entomologists like Mike Raupp, who eagerly awaited this latest emergence, watching the cicadas die off is like watching Old Yeller.

"We're missing them big-time," Raupp said the other day. "The cicada maniacs are crying in their beer. ... I think it really was a pleasant diversion in these awfully serious times."

Well, OK.

I'd at least go along with that.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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Macaulay CulkinUniversity of Maryland, College Park
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