Large numbers of periodical cicadas emerge from the ground every few years, instead of a few every year like most cicadas. There are three species of 17 year cicadas and four species of 13 year cicadas, the number telling how often they emerge. Both thirteen and seventeen are prime numbers, which makes it difficult for predators to time their own population increases to match what the cicadas are up to. This means there are always more cicadas than the predators can possibly eat!
Scientific name: Magicicada
Marcus du Sautoy meets Dr John Cooley who explains how periodical cicadas rely on safety in numbers and rare appearances to avoid predators.
In episode one of The Code, Marcus du Sautoy travels to Alabama to meet Dr John Cooley who explains how periodical cicadas rely on safety in numbers and rare appearances to avoid predators.
Periodical cicadas emerge from the ground in their thousands.
'A beautifully filmed sequence of one of nature's greatest spectacles. David Attenborough summons an amorous, but misguided, male cicada with a snap of his fingers. A mass cicada emergence like this is something I would love to witness.' (George McGavin: scientific advisor on Life in the Undergrowth)
The biggest insect emergence on the planet.
The timing of this extraordinary event is known to the week, so the crew was ready at the epicentre observing the most favoured trees, high in sugary sap. When the nymphs began to appear, the crew soon discovered the shoot's challenges. Every time the filming lights were turned on the nymphs scattered. Then, as the dead cicadas piled up, the stench from rotting bodies was appalling.
The Periodical cicadas can be found in a number of locations including: North America. Find out more about these places and what else lives there.
Magicicada is the genus of the 13-year and 17-year periodical cicadas of eastern North America. Although they are sometimes called "locusts", this is a misnomer as cicadas belong to the taxonomic order Hemiptera, while locusts belong to Orthoptera.
Magicicada spp. spend most of their 13- and 17-year lives underground feeding on xylem fluids from the roots of deciduous forest trees in the eastern United States. After 13 or 17 years, mature cicada nymphs emerge at any given locality, synchronously and in tremendous numbers. After such a prolonged developmental phase, the adults are active for about 4 to 6 weeks. The males aggregate into chorus centers and attract females for mating. Within two months of the original emergence, the life cycle is complete, the eggs have been laid and the adult cicadas are gone for another 13 or 17 years.
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