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Anita’s Blog – Dog Days of Summer

The dog days of summer. Right on time. The hottest time of the year is mid-July to mid-August in the northern hemisphere – hot, sultry, humid heat and searing sun – blame it on the stars.


Historically, the dog days are the period following the heliacal rising of the star system Sirius, which Greek and Roman astrology connected with heat, drought, sudden thunderstorms, lethargy, fever, mad dogs, and bad luck.” (Wikipedia)


“Sirius marks the nose of Canis Major, the Greater Dog. The first sighting of Sirius and its association with the rebirth of the Nile was so important that its heliacal rising marked the start of the Egyptian calendar year. Heliacal relates to the star's proximity to the Sun (Helios in Greek).” https://www.skyandtelescope.com/observing/a-real-scorcher-sirius-at-heliacal-rising/


While we’re avoiding mad dogs, turning our back on bad luck and awaiting sudden thunderstorms for relief of the oppressive heat, we celebrate another ancient rite – also right on time: the arrival of the siren songs of summerthe cicadas! — possibly my favorite bug.


Almost free! Cicada emerging from its exoskeleton. (Photo by Anita Westervelt)

We have a cicada to go with our mystical, galactical historical weather: the superb dog-day cicada, Neotibicen superbus.


Newly-emerged Superb Dog-day Cicada -- another awesome right place/right time opportunity photo at dawn. (Photo by Anita Westervelt)

How does all this cosmological and earthy tradition interrelate? Well, it’s pretty much just happenstance. It’s thought that the superb dog-day cicada is so named because it makes its annual appearance during the dog days of summer -- when it is most hot and humid -- coinciding with the time when Sirius, the Dog Star, rises at the same time as the sun.


The superb dog-day cicada has been found in much of Texas and Oklahoma, west Arkansas, southwest Missouri, southeast Kansas and possibly east New Mexico and northwest Louisiana. Here on our San Benito property, they seem to like to crawl up the little flags I put out to mark things of importance for their worldly transformation.

Listening to night songs was a wonderful aspect of growing up in southeast Kansas. Prior to the popularity of air conditioning, old, two-and-a-half-story wood-frame Midwestern homes had huge attic fans that pulled a breeze into upper-story bedroom windows -- most nights. Other nights, especially airless nights that followed a shimmering dog day, the breeze was stilled -- but the darkness was not.


The lyrical noise of cicadas kept many a child company on those oppressively sleepless nights. A "rapid clacky-clicking crescendo and fall" describes the song of the superb dog-day cicada, according to this Website: http://www.insectsingers.com/ -- where you also can listen to cicada songs from other parts of the world, like Borneo, New Zealand, Japan, India, and points beyond.


Summer childhood mornings back then were busy with rounding up cicada shells. It was a rare treat to see the cicada itself – and when you did, you’d have to go get mom to show her your prized find; picking up a cicada caused frenetic wing gyrations and loud buzzing that tickled the hand, eliciting a quick squeal and instant release and lots of giggles as it took flight.


Superb Dog-day Cicada empty shell. (Photo by Anita Westervelt)

The Internet has a tremendous variety of information about the ancient cicada. Quoting Wikipedia: (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cicada) "The earliest known fossil Cicadomorpha appeared in the Upper Permian period; extant species (currently existing) occur all around the world in temperate to tropical climates. They typically live in trees, feeding on watery sap from xylem tissue (the water conducting tissue of vascular plants) and laying their eggs in a slit in the bark."


Cicadomorpha is an infraorder of the insect order Hemiptera which contains the cicadas, leafhoppers, treehoppers, and spittlebugs.


Wikipedia continues some interesting information:

“Most cicadas are cryptic (ability to avoid observation or detection), singing at night to avoid predators. The periodic cicadas spend most of their lives as underground nymphs, emerging only after 13 or 17 years, which may reduce losses by starving their predators and eventually emerging in huge numbers that overwhelm and satiate any remaining predators.


“The annual cicadas are species that emerge every year. Though these cicada have lifecycles that can vary from one to nine or more years as underground larvae, their emergence above ground as adults is not synchronized, so some appear every year.


“Cicadas have been featured in literature since the time of Homer's Iliad, (around the Eighth Century B.C.) and as motifs in art from as far back as the Chinese Shang dynasty (1600 to 1046 B.C.). They have also been used in myths and folklore to represent carefree living and immortality.”


In art, “the cicada has been seen as a symbol of resurrection, an association that owes to its fascinating life cycle.” In two- and three-dimensional art, it has been used as an “analogy for the spirits of the dead rising on a path to eternal existence in a transcendent realm.” https://www.freersackler.si.edu/cicadas/


Cicadas exist on every continent but Antarctica. There are more than 190 varieties (including species & subspecies) of cicadas in North America, and more than 3,390 varieties of cicadas around the world. This number grows each year as researchers discover and document new species.


The dog-day cicada is not a plant pest in Texas, according to Texas AgriLife Extension Service. Adult dog-day cicadas live five to six weeks -- plenty of time to listen to their songs.


Superb Dog-day Cicada. (Photo by Anita Westervelt)

Cicadas are attracted to black light moth sheet set-ups – just another reason to try your hand at mothing and study what visits – an opportunity perhaps to discover and document a new species!


Superb Dog-day Cicada on wall next to moth light set up. (Photo by Anita Westervelt)

The Farmer’s Almanac also has interesting Dog Day information at this link: https://www.almanac.com/content/what-are-dog-days-summer

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