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Bug Music book cover
Bug Music

Ode to Cicadas

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Cicada on leaf
Cicadas on a leaf in northern Virginia
Cicada on fence
Cicada on a fence

They’re flying, buzzing, and crawling everywhere! Washington, DC, neighborhoods around the U.S. Copyright Office are teeming with Brood X cicadas, taking their next steps on a seventeen-year journey. Along the way, they’re also inspiring musicians, photographers, artists, and authors to create copyrighted works.

These cicadas belong to a genus called magicicada, whose very name evokes the magical wonder of a creature with such an unusual lifecycle. The periodic groups, or broods, emerge in seventeen or thirteen-year cycles. Different broods cluster geographically around the United States.

The insects live their juvenile years underground and then climb out of the soil, emerging by the billions, ready to become adults and mate. They survive by outnumbering the populations of their predators, who can’t possibly devour so many creatures.

For me, cicadas are a tribute to perseverance and resilience. Their buzz is electrifying! For many creators, they are an inspiration to celebrate, explore, and express their awe.

Cicadas in Home Sweet Home book cover
Cicadas in Home Sweet Home by Alfred Lambourne
Consider Alfred Lambourne’s sonnet in Cicadas in Home Sweet Home (© 1903).

Rejoice, my heart, in this sweet rivalship,
Thy measures make amid the glad acclaim.
Caressed each word that dwells upon the lip,
And sweetly wild, night’s watchers shrill proclaim.
Hark, how vociferous the notes they shake–
The keen cicadas, happy in the strife!
And list, ah list,—as clear for gladness sake —
Sweet word and melody awake to life!
O, shall I sink though heavy weight oppress—
While sounds of concord, strength and hope shall give?
O, all forgotten now each wan distress.
While these bright words and tuneful echoes live:
This moment fleeting, blissful peace renews,
In Home, Sweet Home, where love comes like the dews.

That shrill music with its seemingly unending rhythmic pulsing to many may sound cacophonous. Personally, I find the whirring melody energizing and exciting.

The relationship between animal and human music may suggest a primal synchronicity deep within the heart of our notions of rhythm. In the book Bug Music: How Insects Give Us Rhythm and Noise (© 2013), musician David Rothenberg explores the connection of insect influences on music. In his accompanying album, he plays his clarinet with the thrumming, whizzing, and drumming beats of cicadas and other insects.

Here is Magicicada Warm Springs by David Rotheberg.

Bug Music book cover
Bug Music: How Insects Give Us Rhythm and Noise by David Rothenberg
Other authors have written tales of these insects in both adult and children’s books. In Cecily Cicada (© 2004) by Kita Helmetag Murdock and Patsy Helmetag, a mother allays her daughter’s fears by celebrating the wonder and spurring curiosity about the cicadas’ debut. The authors updated the book for the 2021 emergence.

When you see a cicada, please give her a smile

‘Cause you may not see one again for a while.

Just look at the grown-up who’s reading to you.

When the cicadas come back, you’ll be a grown up, too!

Cecily Cicada book cover
Cecily Cicada by Kita Helmetag Murdock and Patsy Helmetag
Cicada in office cubicle
Cicada in office cubicle in Cicada, published by Scholastic, Inc.

Author Shaun Tan was inspired by the sound of cicadas outside his bedroom window and wrote Cicada (© 2019), a metaphorical picture book about an underappreciated, disillusioned office worker. The book’s illustrations feature out-sized cicadas in office settings.

Cicada work in tall building.

Data entry clerk. Seventeen year.

No sick day. No mistake.

Tok Tok Tok!

During their emergence two cycles ago, I remember the shock of seeing my brother picking a cicada off a tree and popping it in his mouth. Cicadas may be a delicacy, or at least edible. The Cicada Cookbook, by Chris Royal (© 2016), is one of several cookbooks that offer recipes for appetizers, salads, and desserts. Give the recipes a try, if you dare.

Cicadas’ bulging vermilion eyes and iridescent wings make for compelling photographs and videos. Here’s a video of cicadas on the move, and note that under Copyright Law this video is in the public domain as a U.S. government work.

The insects also inspire a variety of designs used in shower curtains, t-shirts, and art prints. Nina Designs creates pendants, rings, and charm bracelets, including the Cicada Charm (© 2013) whose metamorphosis serves as a powerful symbol of transformation.

Mike Bowman an artist in Baltimore, Maryland, organized a community art project called Cicada Parade-a in which more than 150 artists and enthusiasts create oversized sculptures of cicadas decorated with bright colors and whimsical designs and publicly display them throughout the city. Each artist also writes a short story on the theme of transformation.

Mosaic Cicada sculpture
Carla Cecilia Cicada by Luann Carra

Cicada with glasses sculpture
Edgar, a cicada disguised as a raven by Tim Brosius

Ava Catie Cicada sculpture
Ava Catie Cicada by Karyn Haasen

To find more cicada-inspired works, you can use our online catalog to search for copyright registrations. If you’d like to register your own creations, use our copyright registration system. Meanwhile, if you live in a Brood X zone, enjoy the rare and wonderful cicada phenomenon.

Comments (3)

  1. I love it! :)

  2. How these giant flying insects provoked dread growing up! But now I can appreciate them as a longing for home beckons with the news of Cicadas return!

  3. A chirpy little article.

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