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’Tis the cicada season

The massive Brood X emerges every 17 years

A periodical cicada in Zelienople, Pa. Associated Press/Photo by Keith Srakocic (file)

’Tis the cicada season

It’s about to get loud. Fifteen eastern U.S. states and the District of Columbia are expected to play host to billions of harmless and hapless black-bodied, red-eyed bugs anytime from late April until early June. But they won’t be around for long. Though they’ve spent the better part of two decades underground, the Great Eastern Brood of periodical cicadas will break free from underground tunnels, climb trees, and deliver mating calls that can be louder than a lawnmower—all within four to six weeks before dying.

Scientists call the group Brood X. Collectively, the bugs represent one of the largest of 15 periodical cicada broods that emerge every 17 years. In 2004, scientists spotted the brood as far east as Pennsylvania and as far west as Illinois. Entomologists have identified Pennsylvania, Indiana, Maryland, and Washington, D.C., as major hot spots for the bugs. In some places with heavy concentration of nymphs, there could be as many as 1.5 million cicadas per acre, or about 34 per square foot, according to entomologists at Virginia Tech.

The parents of this year’s cicadas emerged in 2004, laid eggs, and quickly died. Since then, those eggs have hatched into nymphs that feed on tree roots. Depending on the weather, the bugs will surface sometime between late April and early June—whenever soil temperatures 8 inches below the surface reach about 64 degrees, scientists say. The nymphs that emerge quickly clamber up trees or anything else that gets them away from ground-based predators.

Scientists believe cicadas coordinate their emergence as a survival strategy called predator satiation. The species is mostly defenseless against predators during its just weeks-long life cycle above ground. But with so many emerging at once, the bugs can overwhelm the appetites of reptiles, birds, and small mammals. Once the predators have had their fill, the remaining cicadas can get on to mating.

According to cicada expert and Mount St. Joseph University entomologist Gene Kritsky, weather conditions must be right for the cicadas to emerge. “For the past couple of years, it’s been the second day that our temperatures have reached the low 80s,” Kritsky told the Cincinnati Enquirer. “Then they pop.”

John Dawson

John is a correspondent for WORLD. He is a graduate of the World Journalism Institute, the University of Texas at Austin, and previously wrote for The Birmingham News. John resides in Dallas, Texas.



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Entomologists study insects. Etymologists study word origins.


Excellent response. I, too wondered what a more God-honoring perspective might have to say about this he purpose of Cicadas. I found the following  article from over 5years ago: "We don’t know cicadas’ purpose in the world before the Fall—perhaps it was simply to sing their Creator’s praise—but today they benefit plants and animals alike. The tunnels the nymphs dig aerate the soil so plants can more easily obtain nutrients, and the females’ egg-laying naturally prunes large trees. In our fallen world, cicadas help plants even in death by enriching the soil with nitrogen, and they play an undeniably beneficial role as a food source. Several kinds of predators gorge on cicadas at the “all you can eat cicada buffet,” yet their numbers, like the sand of the seashore, are so vast that the predators can’t put a dent in them."  (Periodical Cicadas-Synchronized Swarming by Dr. Gordon Wilson on March 22, 2015. Featured in Answers Magazine). 


Maybe after 17 years it's just boring underground (pun intended)


Yes, well stated Steve. This ability to stay underground for about 15 years is incredible from an engineering perspective. How exactly do they know when to come out? Is it quantum entanglement? Is it purely environmental factors? How could it survive over such a long period of hibernation? Why doesn't it just die out? As an engineer and scientist I too believe this is evidence of design loudly shouting in our faces.  

Steve Shive

This is truly incredible! I live in MD and remember the last emergence 17 years ago. Conference calls from my home office at the time were quite challenging due to the freight drain levels of sound emanating from these emerging creatures striving for predator satiation so the survivors could mate.

But I am struck by, " Scientists believe..." So all scientists, as a monolithic consensus "belief" posit the irrefutable truth that predator satiation and a survival mechanism is the sum total of what we are seeing? End of story. And we Christians reading a Christian magazine should read in wonder of the miracle of evolution?

At best this is short sighted. At worst we who worship the King of Kings, the Creator and Sustainer, and Son who holds all things together, are being sold a counterfeit story. We can toss out any biblical concepts of God creating this world as primitive beliefs or metaphors. And what does God think of our advanced 21st century enlightened perspective that leaves Him out?

This Generation X emergence is an opportunity to wonder and marvel about life, creation, our world and nature. As a Christian I cringe when I see evolution casually included in a Christian magazine as the only explanation of this absolutely incredible activity. I looked at the linked article and have noted the section:


The most commonly asked questions concerning periodical cicadas are, "why are they long lived?"; 'why exactly 13 and 17 years?'; and 'which came first, the evolution of periodicity, the evolution of the long life cycle, or the evolution of predator satiation?' We do not know the answers to these questions [this should be the emphasis of this article because 'science' can't answer these questions - My insertion]  but experimental evidence and mathematical models have enabled us to develop some ideas. [Is this all we 'know'!?!]"

Is this all there is to this? Shouldn't this emergence, at least on some foundational level, spark some admiration of the God who designed and started it all? This begs the question of the validity of the questions asked? What about the scientists who see God, or at least an intelligent designer, behind it all!? The chinks in the Darwinian, natural selection, explanation of what we see and encounter in this incredible world are at the very least cause to question such emphatic statements such as your piece and the link present.

Even more I am reminded of the Christians at Berea who were lauded for their searching the scriptures daily "... to see if these things were so." I am a Christian, a scientist and thus skeptic, which should naturally follow from both of these. We as Christians should question and see if there might be more to this emergence than what some "scientists" believe! My last question is, "Why was there not a link to some article by a scientist who is not hamstrung and limited by evolutionary science?"