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Every summer you can hear the calls of some kinds of cicadas, but periodical cicadas are different. They exist only in the eastern two-thirds of the United States, and have the longest of all insect lives. Some periodical cicadas live 13 years, others 17 years, with nearly all of that time spent underground. Young cicadas, called nymphs, sip water and nutrients from tree roots. The nymphs count the years, probably by sensing changes in tree sap, as it is affected by the seasons of each year.
When their countdown ends and soil warms in the spring, millions of cicada nymphs dig out. They climb posts and trees, and cling there. Their nymph "skins" split open and adult cicadas wriggle out. Finally, after many years underground, they are out in the sunshine. They can fly, and the buzzing noises of males attract females. It is a noisy and hectic time in their lives. They have just a few weeks to mate and produce the next generation. Once females lay eggs in tree twigs, all of the adults die. Soon after, tiny nymphs hatch from the eggs, drop to the soil, and burrow in. They begin to sip juices from tree roots, grow slowly, and count the years until they will have their own time in the sun.
Nearly every year, one or more populations, called broods, of periodical cicadas emerge in some states. In 2015 a brood of 13-year cicadas, called the Lower Mississippi Valley brood, will appear in parts of 8 states. A brood of 17-year cicadas will emerge in 6 states, including parts of Texas and Oklahoma. Notice that I say "parts" of states. These cicadas don't roam around. The nymphs go underground in the same places where their parents emerged. You will find them in one town but not another, in one neighborhood but not another.
Some people call cicadas "locusts," but locusts are a kind of grasshopper that eats plants. Cicadas do not chew on plants. They are harmless, fascinating creatures. And they give us an awe-inspiring animal spectacle.
Discover why cicadas are all the BUZZ. Renowned author Laurence Pringle and accomplished nature illustrator Meryl Henderson have created the most complete, comprehensive book for kids about these noisy but harmless insects. Cicadas! Strange and Wonderful is the story of an insect that deserves to be protected. For the story behind the book, click here.
Someone is called a Renaissance man or woman when they are talented and make lasting achievements in many areas. We often apply this term to Michelangelo, Galileo, and especially Leonardo da Vinci, but Jim Whiting has another extraordinary person to add to the list. You'll find out about this superstar tomorrow.