Most of us know the cicada from its buzz, or from their brownish husk of a shell found clinging to a tree trunk or branch. But for students in a class at Kansas University, this season is a rare opportunity to study these bugs after 17 years underground.
These tiny creatures that take up no more space than the tip of the pinky live much longer than most insects, yet their lives occur almost entirely beneath the earth. This spring, they emerge with a “gentle buzz” according to residents near the university, in Lawrence, Kansas.
This “periodical” cicada only comes out once and what make them special for the is how in tune they are with each other. They are synchronized to emerge from the earth, after their nearly twenty year hibernation, at the same time.
“How do these things do it? How do they know when it’s time to come out?” Hagen asked. “What does this pulse of nutrients in the form of dead cicada bodies do for our trees?” Dr. Robert Hagen, a professor of environmental studies, teaches the class — also periodic — called “Biology of Cicadas.” His students are privileged to study the habits of these flash-in-the-pan creatures at Armitage Education Center, near Lawrence, throughout the spring.
After all the buzz (literally) the cicadas don’t overstay their welcome. They die out before the next season or, commonly, are eaten by birds and rodents. Because these bugs don’t have natural defenses, like spines or odor, this is “a great year to be a bird,” says Dr. Hagen.