Their song is waning. Their sex drive is dwindling. They're dropping dead one by one.
Yes, the curtain is dropping on the 17-year cicada's Summer of Love. Within a week to 10 days, the experts say, the 17-year cicada in this area will be history, at least for another 17 years, and it will be all over but the hatching.
The billions of tiny white cigarlike eggs will hatch during August. The antlike nymphs will burrow several feet into the ground, clamp onto small roots and feed until 2004, when, once again, their mysterious, internal clocks will ring the alarm to dig toward daylight, perpetuate the species and fly like crazy into little girls' hair.
For the time being the eggs are nestled in tiny slits in small branches. The branches may have fallen to the ground or may be hanging brown and lifeless on otherwise healthy, green trees.
According to the experts, most trees will survive despite their brown dressing. The only trees that might not are the young, severely damaged ones. Many people heeded warnings and protected theirs with netting.
"I'm kind of cicada-ed out," said Dr. Charles Stine, who teaches ecology and animal behavior at Johns Hopkins University.
The most peculiar animal behavior he observed during the past month was the human kind. The clincher, he said, was a man who won a radio station's contest for front-row tickets to a rock concert. The contest was for outrageous behavior.
Stine said the man wrapped himself in a clear plastic bag. His friends stuffed the bag with cicadas, tied the bag off at the neck, and the man rolled on the ground until the cicadas were squashed.
Outrageous? "Rather ludicrous," in Stine's words.
Gaye Williams, an entomologist with the Maryland department of Agriculture, spent days filming and photographing the miracle of the 17-year cicadas. As they began emerging by the millions from pencil-size holes around the first of June, Williams watched until the wee hours of the morning in her Bowie neighborhood.
Hours old, the cicadas hung from a forsythia bush. They looked like hibiscus flowers. It was still, Williams said. It was misty. It was wondrous.
"And I'm going to remember that," she said. "If you believe in fairies, it was like fairies in the night drying their wings."
She said she received hundreds of phone calls from people during the cicadas' peak two or three weeks ago. One woman was afraid to take her children out for a walk.
Another woman said, "I'm just going to close the windows, turn on the radio and drink."
Many people wanted to know how to kill them. Williams patiently explained the wonder of it all, the harmlessness, the utter zest for life.
And the people, Williams said, finally got the message that for three weeks every 17 years, this species of cicada gets to fly and sing and party. And what, in the end, is the least bit wrong with that?
From Sun archive: 1987