Creature Feature: Cicadas

As some faithful readers may remember, I’m not the biggest fan of the ocean. Something else I’m not the biggest fan of? Bugs. Bugs, bugs, bugs. I am not a fan of bugs, not at all. Not in a box, not with a fox, not here, not there, not anywhere. Lucky for me, my home is about to be taken over by billions of them. Billions, crawling and scratching their way out of the Earth like some prehistoric science-fiction horror movie, only it’s not a movie—it’s real life and it’s happening in my own backyard.

Photograph by Alletah Ganino, My Shot

Photograph by Alletah Ganino, My Shot

That’s right—the cicadas are coming to the East Coast of the United States. Cicadas are insects about two inches (five centimeters) long—relatively the same length as a paper clip—with big red eyes and black bodies. There are over 3,000 different species of cicadas, and each species matures for some duration of time underground as nymphs until they emerge as adults in mass groups called clouds or plagues. Some cicada species emerge after one year, others after 13 or 17. This current crop is composed of periodical cicadas, or the 17-year type. Carl Zimmer explains the difference between this current group and other groups of cicadas nicely in his New York Times article. We can expect to see this group, Brood II (one of 15 total broods), of cicadas emerging sometime soon as summer approaches.

Despite my irrational fear around the cicadas’ emergence (I’ve been assured many times that cicadas are indeed harmless and in fact, fun to catch and play with although I seriously doubt that), I’m still rather anxious. However, if you live in an area that’s soon to be affected by these little guys don’t miss out on this great learning opportunity. Here are some resources to help bring the phenomenon into your classroom. You don’t even need cicadas to use them!

Citizen Science

Cicadas are big, red-eyed, harmless insects that burrow underground and stay put for 17 years. (Yes, 17 years.) When millions emerge from their underground burrow, the buzzing "cicada-pocalypse" signals springtime on the East Coast.  Photograph by Brad Taylor

Cicadas are big, red-eyed, harmless insects that burrow underground and stay put for 17 years. (Yes, 17 years.) When millions emerge from their underground burrow, the buzzing “cicada-pocalypse” signals springtime on the East Coast.
Photograph by Brad Taylor

For ideas on how to become a cicada citizen scientist and monitor their movements, see our previous blog post.

More About Insects

Photograph by Jervis Mun, My Shot

Photograph by Jervis Mun, My Shot

Learn about other insects using our collection on these creepy-crawlies.

Cannibal Plagues

A group of cicadas is called a cloud or a plague. And while they aren’t cannibalistic, some insect plagues are.
Learn more by watching this cool video.

I’ve never experienced a cicada-fest before, so I’ve been asking people what they remember from the last cicada invasion. The responses vary. Emotions range from outright disgust to overwhelming excitement. As for me? We’ll see, but I hope you’re able to take advantage of this exciting time in your classroom!

Written by Samantha Zuhlke, National Geographic Education

2 responses to “Creature Feature: Cicadas

  1. Pingback: Three of the Longest Lived Insects on Earth | Pest Control San Antonio·

  2. Pingback: The Cicadas are coming! The Cicadas are coming! So what’s up with the Cicada? | Rodneo's Blog·

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