Bob Shell: Cicadas

Cicada. Illustration by AI.

Text by Bob Shell, Copyright 2024




The TV news has been full of stories about the simultaneous emergence of two different broods of periodic cicadas. One brood emerges after thirteen years underground, and the other after seventeen years. 

My original training and occupation was as an entomologist, an insect specialist. I worked in that capacity for the Smithsonian Institution in the 1960s. Cicadas were not my main subjects of study, which were Indo-Australian butterflies and tropical beetles, but I did read a lot about all insects in my studies, including cicadas. It is interesting and puzzling that all periodic cicadas have life cycles that are prime numbers, numbers divisible only by themselves and one. There has been much speculation as to the reason for this, but no one really knows the answer. 

One piece of misinformation that I’ve heard over and over on TV is that the deafening noise male cicadas make is to attract the females. That’s nonsense. Cicadas, male and female, are deaf. The earsplitting noise is much more likely intended to fend off predators. If the females could hear, there’d be no need for such loud noises. Crickets and grasshoppers get along just fine without such volume. 

Cicadas are mostly harmless. They cannot bit or sting. It is true that female cicadas cut deep slits in branches to lay their eggs. This can damage and weaken branches so they break off in high wind or loads of snow. But it is sheer nonsense, as one TV ‘talking head’ reported that their ovipositors (egg layers) are metal! I don’t believe any living creature, at least on Earth, has metal parts, although one wasp does line its nest with a polymer, a plastic. 

If you want to know the truth about an insect, ask an entomologist, not a TV news reporter.


About The Author: Bob Shell is a professional photographer, author, former editor in chief of Shutterbug Magazine and veteran contributor to this blog. He is currently serving a 35 year sentence for involuntary manslaughter for the death of Marion Franklin, one of his former models.  He is serving the 15th year of his sentence at Pocahontas State Correctional Facility, Virginia. To read additional articles by Bob Shell, click here:

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