If you’re a reporter covering Congress, it’s best to keep your ear to the ground.
Especially when it’s cicada season.
The Brood X cicadas are now in full force along the Eastern Seaboard. Especially Washington, DC. And, even more specifically, around the U.S. Capitol.
In fact, you may not even have to keep your ear to the ground. You’re likely hear the cicadas (cicadae?) everywhere.
BROOD X CICADAS HIT WASHINGTON’S CAPITOL HILL
There’s that distinctive, low hum of the cicadas. It sounds like a sonorous death ray from a low-budget, 1950’s sci-fi flick. And the drone is beginning to overtake Washington.
“The sound that you hear is what they make as their mating call to attract their mates so they can lay their eggs,” said Ashley Cuffia, a cicada expert at the Library of Congress. “It’s like a high pitch to sound like ‘tsch, tsch, tsch.” It’ll get louder and louder and louder and then it’ll wind down.”
“It’s a big cacophony of noise,” observed Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-CO).
Cicadas generate a noise of 70 to 90 decibels, about the same volume as a lawnmower.
There aren’t too many cicadas in the district represented by Rep. Darren Soto (D-FL). But Soto lived in New Jersey “a half a lifetime ago,” the last time cicadas wriggled out of the ground on their 17-year cycle in 2004.
“It was like Biblical proportions,” said Soto of the cicadas he encountered as a child. “They’re really big. I remember thinking, as a little kid, thinking ‘What are these things and is this going to happen every year?’”
The U.S. Capitol’s mostly been shuttered to visitors for more than a year due to the pandemic and added security precautions. An extra layer of wire fencing now encircles the Capitol complex. But the cicadas burrowed deep into the ground long before the fence.
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Some pieces of legislation don’t even last as long as the cicadas.
“They sit underground for 17 years living off of tree sap. They come out for four to six weeks. Lay their eggs. And then they die,” said Cuffia. “That’s pretty much their purpose for being on Earth.”
Lawmakers have taken notice.
“People greet their visits with equal amount of scorn and excitement,” said Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD) about the cicadas during a recent floor speech. “We were all trying to avoid stepping on them as we were walking.”
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