Some might consider snail hunting an unpleasant task, but I do not. Call me crazy but I've been enjoying my snail hunts immensely.
Snails are so much easier to capture than the grasshoppers I'd been hunting previously. If I don't find many snails I feel great, because, hey! My efforts to knock down their numbers are obviously working. If I do find lots of snails then Yay! I'm spending my time well and accomplishing what is clearly a necessary task. As long as I am snail hunting rather than, say, weeding, I'm a happy gardener.
A side benefit to snail hunting is finding hidden treasure. When I'm paying close attention to everything happening from ground level traveling up some two feet or so? I discover a lot that I'd ordinarily miss when taking the longer or more elevated view.
Case in point? This is a time of year when we have a lot of annual cicadas caroming around. There are four or five types commonly found in our area, each with a slightly different song. They bounce into walls and fences and at times even people, sometimes rendering them a bit insensate. The bugs, I mean, I've never known one to harm a human. A couple of years ago this cicada slammed into me and fell dazed to the ground at which point I picked it up and took this photo. A few seconds later it recovered and flew noisily away.
These insects raise a great racket as the weather warms, but in doing so they have become what many consider to be an essential part of the Central Texas summertime sound track. The designation for their genus, Tibicen, comes from the Latin for flute-player or piper. (Some entomologist out there had a very wry sense of humor.)
Due to their speed and erratic flight paths it is somewhat rare to get a good look at the insect itself. What Texans are much more familiar with are the discarded exuvia, or abandoned exoskeletons, skins the nymph sheds after it emerges from up to eight feet underground, to take its place as a mating adult.
That's why I was excited out snail hunting today when I discovered a newly "hatched" adult cicada, clinging to its recently shed exoskeleton. As the insect's exterior hardened off and dried out, the coloration became more distinct. Aaaaand as is usual with identification, I immediately ran into trouble trying to narrow the field for this specimen. It is clearly an annual cicada, a Tibicen, and past that? Your guess is probably better than mine.
No matter what specific type it is, here's how it looked this morning when I first spotted it at 9AM:
It was still close to the same spot at 2:30 in the afternoon and had likely achieved what to a more discerning eye than mine is its distinctive adult coloration. By 4:00 PM it had flown away.
Cicada mating songs are a familiar and dare I say even comforting aural backdrop to summer in Austin though I'd be lying if I didn't admit there are some hot humid afternoons when I wish they'd just shut UP! Just for a moment.
That said, I'm grateful to the cicada's more silent garden partners, the snails, for getting me out and forcing me to pay attention after last night's rain. Without the snails I would have missed the entire show today and that would have been a shame, don't you agree? In their own very noisy way, annual cicadas are about as beautiful as they come. And that is something worth singing about.