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Jun 11, 2015 by pippalou
Posted in category: Photography

My relationship with bugs (or, to use the technical term, insects) has always been a bit volatile. At the mere sight of a bug, instinct tells me to back away. The bigger the bug, the quicker I move. If one of them actually gets on me, people who know me best cover their ears to block out the screams, while strangers call the cops to report a murder in progress. My brother just laughs himself silly.

Photography changed all that – well, sort of... Living in the country, I take lots of nature pictures, and after shooting photos of all the native flora and fauna, I found my personal photo collection needed some insects.

Conquering my innate bug-phobia, I tackled all the dragonflies, ladybugs, grasshoppers, crane flies, etc. that I could get to stay still long enough, and then a couple of weeks ago, I came across something new.

Cicada on fence postCicada on fence post
On a late afternoon walk, I saw a large black insect with delicate yellow wings and bulging red eyes (a cicada, I found out later). Even though it didn't move, my instinct yelled, “Run!!” But the photographer in me took control and inched closer.

What a picture this bug would make – the detail of those wings and the bold coloring. As I crept up slowly, I kept expecting it to fly away, but it sat perfectly still. I never had a more perfect insect model, and the my first photos weren't bad.

Cicadas don't always sit so still – only when they first get here. After spending their first seventeen or so years underground, they crawl up to the outer world encased in a sort of bug-shaped shell called an exoskeleton. After they break out of their shells, they have to sit still and gather their wits.

Cicada ExoskeletonCicada Exoskeleton

Some say they're hardening. If you ask me, they're stunned. Think about it – years of darkness, several feet under, with only the company of other cicadas and maybe the passing mole or earthworm. Then, the long, lonely journey up and out into the world above where they find unfamiliar things like sunlight, greenery and camera-toting humans.

In the next few days after my first cicada sighting, I found and photographed lots of new arrivals. They were all most cooperative, not budging an millimeter while I snapped away. They really spoiled me, and they shouldn't have. If they hadn't, I would have been prepared...

On the day of my downfall, a motionless cicada on a tree leaf caught my eye. I just couldn't resist these little bugs anymore. Every sighting represented another prospective picture for my growing cicada collection! Moving closer, I aimed my lens and started to focus. To my surprise, he crawled away! How rude! Obviously, this one had been around long enough to become un-stunned.

I frowned a bit and persevered. I followed it with my camera along branches and over leaves, always focusing, re-focusing. It crawled right to the edge of one leaf and challenged me. Its front feet beat the air madly, boxing at the camera lens. “Bug off!” it seemed to say.

If it thought it could intimidate me, it was wrong. It punched air some more and crawled back and forth in consternation. All the while, I focused and snapped madly, quite sure that a fabulous picture was seconds away. (So far, all my attempts were blurry.)

All of a sudden, my cicada miscalculated and tumbled off the leaf and down into a bed of poison ivy. I poked around in the mass of green with the end of my monopod, hoping to discover my lost insect. Even on the ground, it could still make a good picture!

Suddenly, I heard it call out. Cicadas make a funny noise something between a chirp and a croak. This chirp-croak came from behind me. I turned quickly to make sure I wasn't stepping on anybody. As I moved, the sound came again – still behind me! Was it jumping around? Or was there more than one?

I've never claimed to be terribly quick on the uptake, and it took me a few cicada chirp-croaks from behind before I realized my boxing cicada was on my back.

At that point, I regret to say that I lost it.  I screamed.  I jumped. I danced. I flapped my shirt around trying to dislodge my unwanted passenger. My dog widened her eyes in wonder.

At long last (It was at least 3 seconds!), the cicada flew up off my back and hovered in front of me with a look of derision. “Gotcha!” it croaked. Revving its wings, it zoomed off triumphantly.  I'll bet it would've been glad to know I didn't get a single good picture of it!

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