National Geographic : 1953 Jul
136 Moody Institute of Science Emerging Cicada Nymphs Pepper the Earth with Half-inch Holes Periodical cicadas spend most of their lives a foot or so below ground. In their 17th spring they tunnel upward, stopping just below the surface. Occasionally, when the ground is wet or leaf-covered, they build mud turrets. There they await Maytime's mysterious call. Upon emerging, they honeycomb the earth with exit holes, as many as 84 to the square foot. Heavily infested areas may contain a million cicadas per acre. In this stage the cicada, like the shedding crab, is completely defenseless. His outer skeleton is soft and flabby, and his thick wing nubs have no power of flight (page 138). But this condition changes overnight. Al most as you watch, the wing sacs expand into a three-inch spread of fragile thinness (page 139). Creamy white turns to gray or brown, then to glossy brownish black as the outer shell hardens. Orange red suffuses the mar gins and veins of each mica-shiny wing, while a dark W shows up near each wing tip. By morning a new insect flits high in the treetops. Most of the time you hear rather than see him, this bumblebee-size creature with the fiery-red head lamps. Pilgrim Fathers Called Them "Locusts" An entomologist shudders when he hears the cicada called a locust. Yet the misnomer is easy to understand. It goes back to 1634, when Cape Cod Pilgrims took fright at the emergence of vast swarms. Indians knew the cicadas; they roasted and ate them, al though they regarded the sudden appearance as an omen of pestilence. But to the Pilgrims the insects were an eerie phenomenon. They concluded that the vast and noisy forest company must be locusts, the ancient plague of Egypt. Their illusion was heightened by the fact that the insect seemed to call, "Pha-a-a-a-a-a-a-raoh!" I went to Louise M. Russell, the United States Department of Agriculture's authority on cicadas, for clarification of the cicada locust confusion (page 140). "Locusts and cicadas have little in common, although some people may think they look alike," Miss Russell told me. "The locust, a member of the order Orthoptera, is a migra tory grasshopper. He has strong jaws which can strip vegetation to the roots, and he is well known for his incalculable damage in the Middle East and Africa. He often mi grates in vast swarms for hundreds of miles.* "Cicadas belong to the order Hemiptera, in sects whose mouth parts are developed for piercing and sucking rather than for chewing. They live on sap from trees and shrubs and * See "Report from the Locust Wars," by Tony and Dickey Chappelle, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE, April, 1953.