After 17 years, the cicadas have re-emerged from the ground all across the eastern United States. Swarms of the flying insects, about the size of your thumb, have infested woods and fields, back yards and school playgrounds. With their beady red eyes and stiff translucent wings, they look scary. But they don't bite or sting. Their only goal in this last short phase of their lives, is to mate. At an elementary school in Alexandria, Virginia, the instantly recognizable cicada mating call never lets up.
One ten-year old girl ventures outside Patrick Henry Elementary School, she walks fast. "Most of the time I 'speedwalk,' but when I have to walk over them, I'm really scared," she said.
It's hard not to walk over them. Cicadas and their shells litter the school parking lot and sidewalks, the soccer field and playground. Each child seems to have his or her own story of an unpleasant encounter with a cicada.
"They stick on your clothes. And when you try to wipe them off, they curl up and won't come off your clothes," one student said. "You have to pick it up. Today, I was being chased by one. Once there was a cicada on my leg, crawling up my leg."
"When we were playing kickball, some were flying around on the field, and some were on the trees and everything."
"Yeah, I've been chased by a lot of cicadas. And the cicadas make a very different sound that annoys people that makes their head hurt and gives them a headache."
"I saw a boy holding a cicada by its wings. He tried to chase me with it, and I was scared."
Teachers and school staff encourage the kids to try to see these creatures from a scientific perspective, to observe and describe them. And some of the kids enjoy being cicada scientists.
These kids weren't born the last time the cicadas invaded the East Coast in 1987. But adults remember it well. "I was a volunteer on a school bus. We'd be scared to open up the doors," one person said.
These kids will be young adults by the time the next generation of these cicadas emerges from the ground, in 2021? but they'll never forget the crunching underfoot, the science projects? and the noise of 2004.