I Love. A lifelong passion for flowers has inevitably evolved into a fond regard for the insects that tend them. I am moved by the endless symbiotic pairings between beings so fundamentally different from one another.

White-lined sphinx moths the size of hummingbirds probe the giant white trumpets of moonflower vines each evening, unfurling questing tongues nearly twice the length of their gaudy, furry bodies.

In the daytime, tiny painted schinia moths visit the indian blanketflowers. Their wings so perfectly match the red-and-yellow ray flowers as they settle to sample the central cone that they effectively hide in plain sight.

Small black ants flock to the sweetness of the peony buds, their under-petal quest for nectar helping to open the heavy, heavenly, honey-scented blossoms.

The pudgy caterpillars of the black swallowtail butterfly feast on the dill, eating it down to the nubs only to have it spring up anew, fluffy and resplendent from the pruning. The adult butterflies migrate a few yards to sip nectar and pollinate the riotous neon zinnias, skipping amid red-orange, royal purple, loud pink and sun-kissed yellow blooms.

Cowboy ants zealously guard grazing aphids on the tender young okra buds, the better to milk them for their sweet honeydew. When one leaf suffers, they move them to greener pastures on the next one.

Sawfly larvae move in and skeletonize the leaves of the black-eyed susans. Their feeding session is intense but brief, thinning the chocolate and golden blooms out just enough to safe-guard them from the mildew that otherwise claims them in wetter years.

The intricate dance between cicadas and their trees is so much more complex than the others. Only this past summer have I have begun to gain insight into what I have been seeing with shallower vision all of my life. When they are not actively courting among the branches and tall grasses, or laying eggs, cicadas are not simply gone, or dormant. They are in larval form through several instars, feeding for years from the roots of trees. Although cicadas are considered parasites of trees, I suspect this view may be short-sighted. The root-feeding is not really a robbery, but a loan, and one which the cicadas will repay with interest.

Sooner or later cicadas become food for trees, birds, mammals, fish, other insects, even people in some parts of the world. The birds and squirrels will grow fat on them and process them into nuggets of fertilizer for the trees and plants. Even the not-so-lucky cicada hunters will be fertilizing the trees as they camp out there in search of a tasty meal.

Squirrels, opossums and raccoons will also carry off nuts and seeds in their cheeks or guts, planting new trees and shrubs. Specialists such as the yellow-billed cuckoo will raise bumper crops of young in the years when cicadas are the most abundant.

Ants and other insect scavengers will gut and carry off vulnerable cicadas, sometimes before the new tenerals can even emerge from their exuvia. Ecstatic with the rich store of fat with which to feed their queens or their young, ants leave scent trails in trees the nymphs favor most. In the process of transporting and patrolling, the ant tunnels help to loosen and aerate the soil, helping the trees to thrive.

Cicada-killer wasps sting cicadas and leave them alive but paralyzed in a burrow along with a wasp egg, to be the perfect food for the hatchling, still fresh when they hatch. Intuiting the gender of the eggs, the mothers leave one cicada for the males, two for the females. Whatever nutrients are left from their feeding will go back to the soil for the benefit of plants and trees. It is a matter of life begetting life.

Now, during the final dying of the insects for this season, the knowledge that I have already heard the last cicada song this year fills me with wistfulness. Although I listened and savored and treasured their music all summer, I am already awaiting their next season like an eager concert ticket holder.

It has been one of the summer’s biggest blessings to learn about and to listen to the annual cicadas, and to gain a more an intuitive grasp for the cycles within cycles. In the complexity of symbiotic relationships, pulling on just this one thread leads me deeper into the web of life, where every thread is precious and crucial to the others.

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