Alpha is the Greek word for beginning. Omega is its Greek opposite, or the end. Yesterday my eyes were privileged to witness the Alpha of Omega or the beginning of the end. In my lifetime of more than 6 decades, my eyes had never witnessed this Alpha of Omega. It almost never happened. My first response at seeing a blob on the top wire of the tomato cage was, “wipe that blob off.” A moment later came the comprehension that something very unique was happening and I was going to experience it in real-time.
This is an account of a real alpha and omega. It was amazing. In front of my eyes, in our own garden, a cicada came out of its nymph stage and became an adult. You may disagree if you knew me but, I am not a bore. It was amazing. Watching a nature masterpiece occur is a gift every human should have opportunity to witness.
This is what happened. Instead of a brown blob on the top wire of a tomato cage my eyes picked up the exuviae of a Dog Day Cicada that had moments before split the skin of the exoskeleton and was just emerging in its first moments as an adult Dog Day Cicada or in Latin, Neotibicen canicularis. It was my delight to witness its “alpha” adult moments. Though my observation did not include specific timing of this event, within 2 hours an adult Dog Day cicada perched itself on a tomato cage stake.
Cicadas are marvelous insects. It is believed there are 170-190 species of cicadas in the United States and over 3,000 world-wide. Some of these species do not emerge from the earth where they have been living as nymphs for 13 or 17 years. After years of life underground these cicadas, both 13 and 17 year and annual cicadas, emerge as adults and live between 5 and 6 weeks, just long enough to mate and produce the next generation. The “omega” part of the cicada’s adult life comes quickly.
Female cicadas lay up to 24 eggs. Females have an ovipositor which can cut slits in the small branches of trees. Imagine, and insect part that is strong and sturdy enough to cut into a tree. She lays her eggs in these slits which then shelter and provide food in the form of tree sap to the cicada larva when they hatch. Between 2 and 7 months later, shorter in northern climates and longer in southern, the eggs hatch as ant-like nymphs.
Next begins the longest part of the life of any cicada. Cicada nymphs burrow beneath the surface to begin a feast on the sap they find in tree roots. This “feast” may last from 1 to 17 years depending on the type of cicada!
Just before the “omega” portion of the cicada’s life cicada music begins. Male cicadas have tymbals to create the “hear it everywhere” sound distinctive to cicadas. Male cicadas can flex their tymbals, the drum-like organs found in their abdomens. Think of a tymbal as a combination tympani and cymbal, both of which are percussion instruments. Cicadas can certainly attract a mate with their calls. The loudest North American cicada call can achieve an ear drum piercing 108.9 decibels. That is equal to a car horn.
Yes, cicadas have an amazing “alpha and omega” from the start of their life to their brief but boisterous adult lives, cicadas are worth searching for. They point us to the ultimate Alpha and Omega.
God, Creator of cicadas, is the true “beginning and end.” Isaiah, one of the Old Testament prophets, reminds us who God is in this way, “This is what the Lord says—Israel’s King and Redeemer, the Lord of Heaven’s Armies: “I am the First and the Last; there is no other God.” (Isaiah 44:6) Pastor John Piper reminds us of the timeless nature of the cicada Creator he says, “God has the first word and the last word in history.” The writer of Psalm 90:2 expresses the eternal nature of God this way, “Before the mountains were born, before you gave birth to the earth and the world, from beginning to end, you are God.”
Only an everlasting, almighty God could imagine and create a cicada. May you think of the eternal Alpha and Omega the next time you hear a cicada calling.