Did you recognize the odd-looking creature in last week’s puzzler? It is a Cicada exuvia or shed skin. Some insects, like cicadas, go through incomplete or gradual metamorphosis. This means that they have 3 stages–egg, larva or nymph and then winged adult. Their transformation from larva to adult is extraordinary!
If you live in western NC and have been through Arden or Skyland in recent days, you’ve probably heard the deafening drone of cicadas in the treetops. And these are not your regular, ordinary dog-day cicadas, these are the amazingly long-lived 17-year cicadas or periodical cicadas.
Here is what they sound like.
Can you imagine living underground in the soil for 17 years? During this time you never see the light of day. You spend your time sucking sap from the roots of a tree, growing and sleeping. Sound fun? Imagine the changes the world can produce in 17 years! When I was thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail I came upon an emergence of the 17 year cicada. It was one of the most incredible natural moments I have witnessed. You can read more about it here.
I used to think cicadas were had the longest lifecycle of any insect, but I have since discovered that is not true. They ARE the longest lived insect in North America, but not the world. Long-horned beetle larva, which live in dead wood, can remain there for 35-50 years before emerging as an adult. But they are not the longest lived either, amazingly! That award goes to the African queen termite who can live for more than 50 years, though some scientists suspect they live closer to 100 years. Imagine!! Such a tiny creature living so long.
Amazingly, scientists actually know where and when our periodical cicadas are going to emerge and have the broods named. If you live in the eastern US and want to know when a 17-year emergence will occur, you can put in your zip code on this site and see a map giving the locations.
There are also what people refer to as dog-day cicadas that live in these same places and have shorter life cycles. They are most likely the ones you hear towards the end of the summer. Their time underground in only 2-5 years, not 17! And they sound and look a bit different too. Some years ago I did a puzzler featuring dog-day cicadas, and then another featuring 10 things you may not know about cicadas.
That’s it for me for now. Have a good weekend. See you again soon!