Welcome to the dog days of summer

I stepped out to the patio with a cup of coffee and a breakfast offering for the local cats.  The time was shortly after 6 a.m., so the world rested dimly under dawn’s feeble light struggling to break through the clouds.

After greeting Larenti and watching her start her morning meal, I stood quietly, meditatively, and sipped casually from the cup of warmth.

I had nothing particular on my mind and allowed my senses to wander the area while I soaked up the goings on of nature’s waking.  Then my eyes stumbled over something on the tree right outside the patio fence.  With so little light, even its nearness made it difficult to see clearly.  Only later I would realize its texture and color made for perfect camouflage on the bark.

I gave the object one quick glance before deciding it was nothing more impressive than an old scar on the trunk, one covered long ago with fresh growth that left a ligneous knot.  I assumed it had caught my attention only because of the lighting that somehow made it seem more prominent.

But when I again stepped outside perhaps an hour or so later, I intentionally returned to the same spot to confirm my earlier thought.  How wrong I had been.

What had seemed a woody nodule in the dark had become something quite different with more light.  Not only that, but it had changed shape.

A superb cicada (Tibicen superba) emerging from its molted shell (201_0108)

What I had seen before was a dog-day superb cicada nymph (Tibicen superba).  With the outer shell covered with dirt and already colored rustic brown as it dried, it had looked like part of the tree, but the adult half-emerged from the molt certainly clarified things.

A superb cicada (Tibicen superba) emerging from its molted shell (201_0109)

As you can see from that photo, its wings had already begun to unfurl.  Its position, however, seemed quite amusing with it protruding from the molt perpendicular to the tree, as though it simply didn’t care about falling because all it wanted to do was get out of that old shell and into its new body.

Unlike periodical cicadas, such as Brood XIII, dog-day superb cicadas are larger and occur in Texas every year since multiple broods overlap.

Their name, dog day, stems from their annual arrival during the hottest part of summer.

A superb cicada (Tibicen superba) (201_0122)

An hour later when I returned to check on it, its wings had fully expanded.  The light by then gave me a beautiful view of the green veins permeating the thin membranous wings.

A superb cicada (Tibicen superba) (201_0125)

You undoubtedly know cicadas hold their wings next to their bodies.  For this one, it would not do so until they dried.  It would hold them out away from itself to help expedite that process.

A superb cicada (Tibicen superba) (201_0128)

That’s a view showing how it holds them out and allows them to dry.

A superb cicada (Tibicen superba) (201_0143)

I do love the cold darkness of their eyes, the marvelously endless depth they seem to contain.  Some might say they appear empty and dead; I would disagree—wholeheartedly.

Again about an hour later, I went back out to see what progress the little beastie had made.

A superb cicada (Tibicen superba) (201_0145)

It had finally folded its wings back against its body.  I doubted it was ready to fly, but it certainly seemed ready to begin moving up the tree.  Even as I snapped a few photos, it slowly began stepping sideways to get off the molt and onto the trunk.

A superb cicada (Tibicen superba) (201_0150)

When I realized its time had come to enter the new world, I left it alone so it could work its way toward the heavens, finish its preparations for flight, and take its place in the dog days of summer.

Much later I chanced to look for it and found it had already made its way up into thick foliage and out on a smaller branch.  I stepped inside to grab the camera but discovered it had already disappeared in the few seconds it had taken me to get back to the patio.

[please note that, although I’ve identified this as a dog-day cicada (Tibicen canicularis), it could well be a superb cicada (Tibicen superba) instead; as a newly emerged adult, its colors and patterns are nondescript and will become clearer within the next week; while the two species are quite similar at this stage and common in this area, one this young is difficult to identify because its shell and wings are not dry, and its markings are not developed yet]

[Update] I’ve since learned that only the superb cicada (Tibicen superba) has an all-green front half, so I’ve updated the post with that identification.

4 thoughts on “Welcome to the dog days of summer”

  1. Wonderful photos of the emerging cicada, Jason. I agree about the eyes!

    I had to go back to Jun 27 2005 to look at the photos I took of our own nonperiodic cicadas. Those were taken with the old, now dearly departed Nikon 990 Coolpix and a hand-held flashlight. Emergence seems to occur in the predawn hours for us too!

  2. Thank you, Wayne. I rather enjoyed watching the little critter metamorphose right before my eyes. Quite intriguing.

    Yes, it’s all happening before dawn, or at least the emergence and preparation for change are happening then.

    And this must be a good year for cicadas in our area (like fall webworms). There are now more than a dozen cicada exuviae dangling from the tree outside the patio. That’s an unexpected number considering there has rarely been more than a handful.

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