Dr. Gordon Wilson Explains the Unique Design of Periodical Cicadas

Posted on April 15, 2015

Periodical Cicadas—
Synchronized Swarming

by Dr. Gordon Wilson
[Full article can be found at Answers in Genesis.]

Armies normally require a general and vast support staff to organize and move in unison. Not so for the periodical cicadas of North America, which emerge in swarms every few years.

They march out of the ground a mighty throng. In multitudes of more than a million and a half per acre, they reach plague-like proportions. Among the most familiar of all insects in eastern North America, they are the periodical cicadas.

Insects grab our attention for lots of reasons, both good and bad. Honeybees delight us with sweetness; butterflies entrance us with beauty; wasps frighten us with pain; lightning bugs glow in the dark; and praying mantises are just big, cool-looking predators.

What about cicadas? Well, they’re biggish bugs, but they don’t sting or glow or devastate crops or produce honey, and they’re certainly not rare. What’s fascinating about periodical cicadas is their sheer numbers and the mysterious timing of their emergence from hiding.

The Hidden Hordes

Young periodical cicadas, or nymphs, spend years not more than two feet under our two feet, down among the roots of trees in our shady yards and parks. What are they doing down there? God designed all cicadas with straw-like mouthparts. The underground nymphs seek out tree roots, poke in their proboscises, and suck up the sugary sap. After five instars (periods between molts), a massive army of teenage cicadas crawl out of their tidy burrows right on schedule.

The Invasion of the Nymphs

Periodical cicadas have a unique life cycle. Each brood of full-grown nymphs synchronizes a mass emergence every 13 or 17 years (depending on the species) to become adults. Zombie-like, they shamble along the ground, seeking a tree trunk, fence post, or anything climbable. ... Read the rest of the article at Answers in Genesis.


Dr. Wilson is NSA's Senior Fellow of Natural History and author of the recent book, The Riot and the Dance: Foundational Biology.

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