Monday, May 16, 2011

Sleeping Beauties

WE were not alone in the campground. We were surrounded by cicadas. All over the grass, clinging to every tree, the empty shells of cicada nymphs, their skins shed as the adults emerged triumphant after a 17-year slumber. From the treetops they now sounded their victory cry. The noise was deafening. At first we didn't equate the high-pitched sound with the insect shells all around. It sounded more like a squeaky siren. Maybe some kind of motor. But it was, in fact, cicadas by the million.

This particular kind of cicada has a revolutionary survival strategy. With only 3 weeks to live as an adult, it quickly mates and lays eggs in trees. The larvae hatch and drop to the ground, where they bury themselves for ... 17 years. It has been measured, and it is always 17 years. All at once, they then climb out of the ground, cling to something and crawl out of their baby pyjamas, leaving these behind to be collected by delighted children. Then, wings unfurled, they fly off into the sunset, trumpeting all the way. Other animals cannot rely on such infrequent visitors as a food source, and their vast numbers ensure plentiful survival even when the odd bird or snake ventures into new culinary territory. In this way, the juicy winged beetles live on to lay the next generation. See you in 2028!

No comments: