What Science Did Last Summer

June Brood 10 of the periodical cicada reappeared in the eastern United States. Brood 10 is the largest group of these remarkable insects, which are known (erroneously) in American folklore as 17-year locusts. For 17 years the nymphs linger beneath the surface of the soil. Then millions emerge, climb the nearest tree, shed their skins, sing love songs that would do credit to a heavy-metal rock group, mate, lay eggs, and die. A few weeks later the new nymphs drop to the ground from which their

Tabitha Powledge
Sep 6, 1987

June

Brood 10 of the periodical cicada reappeared in the eastern United States. Brood 10 is the largest group of these remarkable insects, which are known (erroneously) in American folklore as 17-year locusts. For 17 years the nymphs linger beneath the surface of the soil. Then millions emerge, climb the nearest tree, shed their skins, sing love songs that would do credit to a heavy-metal rock group, mate, lay eggs, and die. A few weeks later the new nymphs drop to the ground from which their parents came and burrow in to drowse and snack on roots for another 17 years.

Astonishingly, much of our information about the periodical cicadas seems to come from investigations done early in this century by a U.S. Department of Agriculture researcher who carried out his studies in his own backyard. A pleasant nostalgic picture of the long-gone gentleman-scientist, but it couldn’t be a clearer...

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