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Going Out With a Bang

January 18th, 2016

Going Out With a Bang

Periodical cicadas should be considered to the all-out partying rock stars of the insect world. They chill and do nothing but eat and rest for around 13 to 17 years. Then they emerge from their underground nests, making the loudest ruckus you’ve ever heard, mate like there’s no tomorrow…because there isn’t…and then die. Their entire lives spent out of the ground are like one giant rock party, and they make enough noise, which they of course consider music, as to be similar to their human rock star counterparts.

Once they emerge they only live for about a month. The males in particular lead very sort lives. Their sole purpose is to impregnate the females. They emerge from the ground and sing loudly to attract females, who flutter their wings in response, much like women fluttering their eyelashes at a rock star. After they’ve mated they die. The females get to stick around a little longer so they can lay their eggs safely in the warm earth or inside young trees.

What most people don’t know is that there are fifteen broods of these periodical cicadas, and each is set to emerge during a specific year. This year was particularly raucous as two of the broods, Brood IV and Brood XXIII, came out together this past year.

One question scientists have about these rockin’ bugs are why they have such specifically timed life cycles of exactly 13 and 17, both of which are prime numbers. One theory is that it helps them avoid being completely destroyed by predators. By coming out in such large numbers they overwhelm their predators with too many insect to possibly eat, so the species is able to live on.

Have you had the chance to witness the mating call of the periodical cicadas? What do you think of their fleeting existence above ground?

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