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June 20, 2013

Cicadas Emerge Across the East Coast

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After 17 years underground, millions of periodical cicadas have emerged from their dark homes and invaded the East Coast, alerting everyone with a deafening hum.

During their time above ground, the cicadas will climb to the tops of trees to find a mate. Females will lay their eggs in tree branches, molt their skin and die. The eggs will later hatch, drop to the ground and burrow into the soil to wait nearly two decades before emerging again.

The Brood II cicada has become somewhat of a bug celebrity as scientists, musicians and filmmakers rush to study the insects during the few short weeks they spend above ground.

“This is kind of our Super Bowl. This is — this is a blockbuster for us,” said Michael Raupp, an entomologist at the University of Maryland. “It’s got birth. It’s got death. It’s got romance.”

The cicadas do not have a defense mechanism to ward off predators. The species survives based on their sheer numbers, with scientists estimating as many as a million-and-a-half per acre during peak season. The species offers an all-you-can-eat buffet with no signs of dying off anytime soon.

The Brood II cicadas are just one of 19 broods that emerge periodically. This is the first time this brood has appeared in the era of social networking. Citizen scientists are using the new technology to track cicadas locally, hoping to map changes in cicadas over time.

The humming insects will be around for four weeks as they grow into adulthood, mate, and die.


“This is like a bit much. It’s like every day you hear this racket, and then at night, it gets quiet, and then in the morning, you see all the dead ones everywhere. It’s pretty gross,” – Tatiana Lowe, dealing with cicadas.

Warm-Up Questions

1. What do you know about cicadas?

2. What does it mean for something to be “periodical”?

3. What do entomologists do?

Discussion Questions

1. What did you find most interesting about this video?

2. Have your students log onto RadioLab’s cicada tracker. What do you notice about the map? What do you find surprising? If you have seen cicadas, report them!

3. Why do you think is it important to study cicadas?

Related Lesson Plan: Periodical Cicadas Are Back!

— Compiled by Carrie Waltemeyer for NewsHour Extra

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