Now that they have been among us for a few weeks, now that we have mused on their songs, their sex lives, even -- forgive us -- their gastronomic appeal, the charm of the cicada is starting to wear a little thin.
The other day, a cicada homed in on Gregory Camp, a young U.S. Department of Agriculture intern, as he walked along a busy Silver Spring street. Camp twisted evasively, but the bug landed on his shirt anyway. He interrupted the cicada's embrace with a backhanded brushoff.
"They're large and annoying," observed Camp, whose strategy for surviving the remaining few weeks of cicadaville is simply to forge ahead. "I just go on with my daily life, and if they land on me, I just knock them off."
This approach may work for Camp, a tall, stocky 19-year-old not cowed by winged insects. Others are not so resilient. Some are taking steps -- be it a veiled hat or a can of bug spray -- to maintain control and dignity amid the onslaught. A cicada is a cicada is a cicada is still an insect, after all, a flying one at that, and one that sometimes jeopardizes the sense of order that humans like to impose on their environment.
University of Illinois entomologist May R. Berenbaum said the aversion many people feel toward bugs derives, in part, from the lack of regard that some insects show for personal space. Berenbaum is the organizer of the Insect Fear Film Festival, which annually showcases movies that feature bugs as the bad guys, such as "Them" and "The Deadly Mantis."
"Even if you rationally know that they're not out to get you," she said of cicadas, "they're still uninvited guests.
"People don't like bugs because they look different," she added. "There's very little to relate to in an insect's face: They don't blink, they don't yawn, they don't smile. They don't have interpretable features. . . . They make noise, but they don't move their lips."
Claudette Warner-Milne, a Silver Spring designer of handbags and other leather items, said she doesn't like "the feel and the sound of them zooming by." Worse than the zooming, she said, is a back-of-the-neck landing, such as happened to her as she stood in a supermarket parking lot last week. She brushed the insect away so vigorously that her hat came off.
The experience redoubled her conviction to promote a line of "don't bug me" headwear -- straw and synthetic-straw women's hats with a rolled brim and a veil of white tulle that protects the face and neck from small winged intruders. Warner-Milne fashions hatbands and trim from leather, silk and woven Kuba fabric from Zaire. The veils on the hats, which are for sale at Andrea's Fine Hats in Silver Spring, are detachable so the hats "can be worn after the invasion," store owner Andrea Bray noted.
For those who don't wear hats, one option is to stay indoors. In the car, the cicada-averse may choose to run the air conditioner rather than tempt a fluttering insect with an open window. Late last month, a Bethesda driver who was startled when a cicada struck her face ran into a fire hydrant, flooding her street.
District Heights resident Annie Johnson, a mental health specialist, found her deck covered with cicadas after the emergence, so she deployed chemical weapons. "I took some Raid and sprayed it all over," she said. Twenty minutes later, the deck was pretty clear of cicadas. "I know that was mean," Johnson added, "but what can you do? The Raid worked."
Pest-control experts and entomologists advise against using insecticide against cicadas, in part because the bugs appear in such numbers that resistance is futile and also to prevent the accidental poisoning of pets, which might eat a sprayed cicada. But Johnson's priority is access to her deck so she can water her garden. "Now I can just go and get my hose uninterrupted," she said.
In downtown Washington, where trees are few and undisturbed ground is a rarity, the invasion of the cicadas is proving more whimper than bang. At Bobby Van's, a 15th Street NW steakhouse with sidewalk tables, lunchtime seating arrangements have been undisturbed. "We're still packing the patio every day," general manager John Simkins said this week. Just a few minutes earlier, a cicada had flown through the restaurant's wide-open doors, and Simkins had employed a countermeasure: "I stomped him."
On Capitol Hill, letter carrier Pat Davis sorted mail in the back of her van. "They're a nuisance, a plain old nuisance," she said of the insects. "I have my hat on because I don't want them flying in my hair. You can't do nothing about them."