My next recurring nightmare.

My friend Vidna took this picture last weekend:

When he sent me the pic, his only comment was, "What are those things sticking out of the front of his face? Guns?" He's totally right. Tell me that doesn't look like something that should be running around on Tatooine.

Or maybe destroying Tokyo:

Look at those claws. Those freakin' eyes. That has to be the ugliest bug ever. It was completely empty, and light as onion skin. Vidna had no idea what it was either, so I told him to send me the picture and I'd find out. I figured it was the skin left by the nymph stage of... well... something, but I had no idea what.

I know there's a few smarty-pantses out there who already know what it is, but I'll admit I had to google it. I started googling "clawed insect" and "crab claws on bug" and I was coming up empty. Then I googled "empty shell of bug with claws" or something close to that, and got a hit. Turns out it's a cicada nymph exoskeleton. Jesus. Just look at it. Could that thing get any uglier?

So I did some reading, and apparently being a cicada means you live a pretty shitty life. First, you're so ugly that you stay underground for 17 years sucking juice out of a root. That's like the bug equivalent of being unemployed and sitting in a crappy apartment with no TV, eating ramen noodles all day. For 17 years.

Then, you finally get up the nerve to come to the surface. You look around and see the butterflies flitting by, and think to yourself...soon.....soon I will be beautiful and free like them! You grab onto a tree and strain at your exoskeleton, and you hear it crack -- and you feel the cool, summer night air rush in. You finally emerge triumphant, ready to be all you can be, and ....

you look like this.

I guess as long as you stay away from mirrors, it's all good. Besides, the females look just like you so you know you've got a decent shot at getting lucky. You have to set the bar pretty low to be a loser cicada. So you suck it up, do your best impersonation of Brian Johnson singing a high C over and over, then you mate, and then you die.

17 years down the crapper so you can honk your vuvuzela for a few days and have sex with something that's as ugly as you are.

And if that's not bad enough, there's this final indignity.

What I want to know is, how does it leave everything behind in such perfect condition? Right down to the antennae and the legs. I wish I could get undressed like that every night. I'd never had to iron another shirt as long as I lived.


  1. Tell the truth JV. When was the last time you ironed a shirt?

  2. Wellll.....It's summer. The season of wearing polo shirts to work. So my guess is, I'm good until mid October.

  3. Oh, but we're not done. We have tons of cicadas down here. And a few years after I moved down here, we acquired a large number of cicada killer wasps. Cicadas are ugly and loud, but these things are terrifying.

  4. Oh, so I see your friend found the ancestors of Joan Rivers?

    How fortunate.

  5. We were down in MD a couple of summers ago when they had a big hatching of cicadas. My husband was screaming like Tippi Hedren in The Birds.

  6. Really - you've never seen those before? They're everywhere here. Also featured in the Corey Haim masterpiece Lucas.

    I hate cicadas. In any incarnation. Loud, ugly...I don't see that they fill a niche in the food chain. Why can't something like that go extinct, instead of the Tasmanian tiger?

  7. Chris, that would freak me right the hell out. I don't like normal wasps.

    Michael, That's a fate I wouldn't with on anyone. Although it might be cool to see what he'd turn into if he shed his skin.

    BAG, that's just cruel. To the cicada.

    Shieldmaiden, were they on him?

    KC, I honestly never have! I've been listening to them in the trees since I was a kid, but I've never seen one before. Odd, if they're that common. Of course, I've never really lived anywhere but upstate NY.

  8. I feel like the lone ranger when I say ... I like the way cicadas sound ... it would not be the deep south without their background music. I found one of their ugly shells on my sweet potato vine yesterday evening. It's an ugly duckling for life for sure.

  9. And they sound worse than they look, yeesh what a racket!

  10. Do you mean to tell me that the bug I also heard in the trees since I was a kid is THAT bug? I wish I hadn’t seen it. I imagined they were much better looking. Many years ago, my mother told me that they were locusts and that they made that buzzing noise by rubbing their legs together. Apparently she thought it was their way to signal that it was hot outside. After a quick search, I see that they will make that noise if you gently squeeze their little bodies. How cute.

  11. Woah. That's ugly. Here's something else really ugly from a friend's blog. Check it out:http://domestica79.blogspot.com/

  12. Seriously? WTF???!?!?! Why the hell would anyone actually EAT that!?! Who thinks "Hmmm look at this scary ass bug!! It looks TASTY! Oh, look how ugly it is now that it's out of it's shell 17 years later. I think we should eat that, and stir fry it with other weird things. Sounds good to me!" Weird people in this world of ours.

  13. Sonofabitch JV, we used to play with the exoskelletons when we were kids - you know, find one, stick it to somebody's shirt - say "WHAT'S THAT??" - and what not - but I never for the life of me wondered what the hell came out of them. And now I reeeaaalllyy wish I didn't know. *shudder*

    Ugh, great post JV - but damn.

  14. The noise of a large amount of cicadas is impressive - and very very annoying.

  15. Anonymous6:46 AM


    Hard to top Bad Ass Geeks remark.. Geez always a wise guy stealing all the good lines.. I'm still thinking of the thing sitting underground, 17 yrs, unemployed, smoking cig's listening to scratchy blues music. With shades on..

    You are too much JV!!!

  16. I'd like you to try one of those recipes and tell us about it! Go on... I dare you!

    Great blog.

  17. I've never seen what they look like when they emerge. Poor dudes.

  18. Oh, I know and HATE those damn cicadas, but have never seen one newly hatched (thank god). What is up with those Groucho eyebrows above their beady red eyes?! It's like "Duck Soup" meets "Nosferatu"

  19. kristina11:02 AM

    You need to buy some no-iron shirts, and then you don't have to do it any time of the year!

    Those bugs look like they could some ironing, however... yech!

  20. Anonymous11:16 AM

    i was relaxing in my sky chair and had the misfortune to look up and see several of these husks on the limb right above my head. i might have screamed like a girl. thanks for doing the research, i feel better knowing that they're not something more sinister, like soul-sucking hollow alien death pods.

  21. Thanks for ruining my nights sleep with that ugly ass picture. I always thought that cicadas looked like a beetle, not something out of District 9. Ugh.
    It's not enough that I had a silverfish crawling on my face while I was sleeping last week...now this. Yes, my FACE!

  22. Anonymous5:52 PM

    I am just wondering who found one of these ugly little bugs and thought "hmmmm....I bet I could make a quiche....mushrooms. Needs mushrooms"

  23. Guess I'm the only one that thinks they're neat and quite pretty after hatching-irridescent. A couple years ago, I photographed one while it was drying. Check it out, see if it doesn't change your mind...come to the dark side...and then make a lot of racket...


  24. So, I sit down for lunch just now and figure I'll check out a few of my favorite blogs. Yeah, good timing!

    I grew up on Long Island, NY, and these things were an unfortunate part of my childhood.

    You didn't mention how stupid they are also, but I can attest to that. They fly recklessly into stuff, like windows, and, yeah, people. During really bad years my own back yard was off-limits to people who couldn’t get past having these things zooming around.

  25. Anonymous10:50 AM

    I was living in Cincinnati in 2004 and got to witness the 17-year hatching of five billion love-starved cicadas, looking like huge irridescent flies with red eyes.

    They would mostly lurk on the ground in the morning, but as the day warmed they would fly up into the trees and "sing", or, if you were walking by, they would fly up into YOU thiking you were a tree and, if you were me, you would scream and jump around like a girly girl trying to bat them off.

    The funniest thing I saw during that six-week invasion: While sitting on a crowded bus on the way to work one morning I heard the characteristic chirp of a cicada - there was one on the bus! Instant chaos. Everyone sitting near the sound jumped up and ran to the front of the bus. The lady sitting next to me reached into her purse and pulled out one of those pop-up laundry bags, popped it open and pulled it down over her head, all the way to her waist, saying "ain't no cicadas gonna bother me."

    The little bug continued its reign of terror until one intrepid warrior woman picked it up by a wing and threw it out the window.

  26. Lickety Splitter, it's definitely the sound of summer...I just never saw one before.

    Nunya, I'd like to hear the 17 year ones down south.

    Jen, I'm afraid so...weird critters. I wonder what purpose they serve? Other than killer wasp food, I mean.

    dbs, what the hell is that??

    Jefe, I have NO idea...but then again, who first looked a lobster and thought "I bet if I boil that up and dip it in butter it'll probably be really good."

    Gringa, do they have them in mexico?
    Lynn, great visual. Cicada blues...has some lyrical possibilities..

    Ross, if you can get me a bunch of freshly blanched cicadas, I will try them.

    Sara, I know - -their whole life cycle is just...depressing. Especially if they get turned into some sort of southern dish before they even get a chance to have any fun.

    Carlo, luckily they don't suck blood. That would be horrible. Killer Cicadas -- sounds like a SciFi channel original.

    Kristina, thanks for the link. But for 60 bucks each, you'd think you'd get more than 30 washes out of it....

    Anon, what the hell is a sky chair?

    Emmeline, I'm here to help. You're welcome. Also, at least Silverfish aren't 2 inches long.

    Deverie , nice pics! Still ugly however.

    Weese, I've never actually seen one before, so I didn't realize they are so stupid.

    MaryC, awesome story.

  27. You see...my son loves bugs...future entymologis. He thinks cicadas are just the coolest bugs ever. He's caught them.

    We were in Philly visiting family and he found one right before we were leaving to head back to Cincinnati. We wound up making the entire drive with a cicada in a cup in the car.

    It got loose once.

  28. Anonymous10:03 PM

    Seriously, I've been waiting on my own bug ID from about.com re: insects. http://forums.about.com/n/pfx/forum.aspx?tsn=1&nav=messages&webtag=ab-insects&tid=445
    16 people have viewed no ID yet been up for a week now...getting worried...I think it looks like the miniature version of mothman

  29. I don't wanna wake up one morning with THAT crawling all over me. Hahaha. I like this post. :D

  30. Oh the (audio) horror!!

    Joanna M. Phillips gets brutally attacked by an Ohio tree cicada and describes a "sex orgy" of the sinister creatures from hell shortly before a summer downpour.


  31. Cicadas look ugly, but once they've hatched and their new exoskeleton has hardened I don't think they look so bad.

    We have them here in Australia too. Interestingly, the 17 year varieties that you get are an interesting evolutionary trick. If they emerged each year, predators would rely on them and thrive, and push down the numbers of surviving cicadas. By saying underground for a number of years, they reduce the number of predators. However if they're regular, then predators will join them in their cycle. But, if you wait for a number of years which is a prime number, it makes it a lot harder for a predatory species to slowly adapt to your cycle. Smart eh? (Sorry, grew up watching A LOT of David Attenborough shows with my Dad)

  32. Oh, and Kristina - Non-Iron shirts are a horrible horrible lie!

  33. Virgil. I think I threw up a little bit in my throat at the site of that monstrously ugly emerging insect... for that I thank you.


  34. kristina5:13 PM

    Mary C, LOVE the laundry-bag-on-the-head lady!

    JV, well for you Americans, the shirts would be less than 60 bucks, and I figure you save a bunch of money not using the hydro to iron, or buying an iron for that matter!

    Codemonkey, as long as you take them out of the dryer right away and hang up, you don't have to do a lick of ironing - sometimes you have to take a bit of curl out of the collar tips, but that's it. no, really. It's the cake that s the lie...

    P.S. Should I be upset my word verification is "ansoress"?

  35. Anonymous5:49 PM

    i live in northern va and have been through TWO cycles of 17 year cicadas... they cover every single inch of the outside world... every. single. inch. millions and millions of them. and that sound - like endless nails on a chalkboard and SO LOUD!!! they look scary but they are so bumbly and stupid that the second time around you aren't really scared of them as you were the first time - when you first experience it it's like the heavans have smoted the earth and the plague of the locusts has come back from biblical times... really - it's that bad!

  36. Anonymous11:25 AM

    Actually, I think cicadas are kind of handsome (for a bug) after they sort of harden up and get past the stage you showed.

    I had one (live) once I but on some guy's tie (as a joke) sort of like a tie clip. and it started crawling UP the tie towards his face and its feet had these claw things and I had a hard time getting it off. It sort of freaked him out!


  37. Mackerel8:47 PM

    I was pleased to read that you have taken an interest in one of my professional pursuits! Yes, I have earned money (not much) studying the ecology of cicadas. What you've got there is not one of the ones that lives for 17 years. This lucky fella probably only had to suck root for say 5-7 years, depending on the root, and weather. So, see? It's not all that bad.

    Amazing cicada facts:
    1) 17 years is one of, if not the longest life cycle known for insects. Amazing!

    2) The periodical cicadas have life cycles that correspond to PRIME NUMBERS (13 and 17), and this is theorized to be a way to diminish the likelihood of a predator evolving that has the same timing! Amazing!

    3) Uhhhh. I guess that's it.

    No really, they are some of the most amazing insects around. If not neccessarily beautiful, then certainly impressive. Thanks for noticing.

  38. heh, I used to have a large collection of empty cicada shells as a kid.

  39. Anonymous11:24 PM

    Jesus! What the HELL is up with those creepy red eyes??!
    Worse than clowns I tell ya.

  40. Anonymous9:46 AM

    First off, hello! Nice to meet you. I found you via Blogs of Note. I know, you'll say to yourself, but it's been months? Well, I had some extra time on my hands this morning, what can I say? I skimmed through the past few months of noted blogs and your blog title caught my eye.

    Cicada's have always baffled me. When I was young we lived in PA and we just lucky enough to be there on one of those 17 year cycles. It was a nightmare to be remembered. A bazillion of those awful shells were left all over the place.

    BUT...in the south, where I have lived ever since, those darn things camp out every summer, although it's quite rare to even find a shell (but I did just a couple of weeks ago). And they are so fricken noisy! Forget about hearing the quiet chatter of crickets when those guys set up camp.

    And...one other thing...that pocket knife is adorable! :-)

  41. Would you believe that I was at a street fair this summer and some copper jewelry artist had made a life-sized cicada brooch?? Yeah, because I want THAT pinned to my lapel all day!

  42. Cicada/Mothman anybody esle think this is more than just coincidence? to start with, it has a weird lifecycle, as much as 17 years under ground, couldn't a larger version of this have a longer life cycle, and wouldn't that explain the long absense since the sighting in that little town in West Virginia. Forgot the name, something Point. It has large red eyes, supposedly just like the small variety. The sightings were accompanied by a buzzing noise that witnessess described as Cicada like. I think I've made my arguement. Mothman was a mammoth Cicada with a life cycle of 80-100 years or whatever. Next mystery please