15 Jul 2014

When a cicada tried to get into my boxer shorts on live TV

It was in May 2004 that a plague of cicadas descended upon Washington DC, determined to cause havoc after a 17-year wait. Known as “Brood X”,  the cicadas emerged in swarms after incubating beneath the roots of local trees. These creatures are about the size of a hornet and mate furiously for a few weeks before dying, only for the cycle to be repeated like clockwork 17 years later.

That summer in Washington, the air and the ground were thick with cicadas, all with one purpose – reproduction –  with the males emitting a deafening chorus or courtship song, intended to be devastatingly attractive to the opposite sex.

Most of these matings occur in what biologists call “chorus trees”. But every population has its mavericks, those who swim against the tide and refuse to conform: and so it was that one cicada, just one, decided to fly not up a tree, but up my trouser leg during a live Channel 4 News broadcast from the roof of our bureau there.

Cicadas Start To Emerge After 17-Year Slumber

An example of the sort of cicada that approached the writer’s boxer shorts as he spoke on live TV

I was supposed to be talking about the latest United Nations resolution on Iraq when I felt something large and fuzzy take the scenic route up my left leg. It got perilously close to my boxer shorts before I clamped my hand down on it hard and launched into whatever it was I had to say.

Afterwards, I pulled up my trouser leg and saw the cicada tumble out, crushed and dead. I then popped it in an envelope and mailed it off to a strange company in Ohio which had agreed to turn it into a paperweight. Only in America.

The cicada still sits on the mantelpiece at home in my sitting room, encased in a block of resin, slightly battered by its journey up my trousers and through the American postal system. Most of my broadcasts are thankfully forgotten – but that one remains a talking point to this day.

Below: Adam Boulton swallows a fly

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