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The 17-year itch

"I counted 10 cicada larvae in a 4x6 foot patch of garden,” a friend posted on Facebook the other day. Comments ranged from “disgusting!!” to “ewww,” with a frowny face.

Not so at Yale’s Peabody Museum of Natural History. The bug lovers there are so excited about the "Return of the 17-Year Cicadas!" that they have titled an exhibit exactly that—exclamation point and all. The exhibit, which opens today with a program on "Bug Music," runs through September 3.

What's so special about these bugs? We'll let the Peabody tell their poignant, true story:

Magicicada septendecim spends 17 years developing underground as a nymph, feeding on sap from tree roots. For a short time in early summer of the 17th year, the nymphs of the entire brood emerge around sunset, climb up tree trunks and transform into beautiful winged adults that have black bodies with red and yellow trim, ruby-like eyes and stiff glossy wings.

Wait, there's more:

Within a week males begin to sing a high-pitched song to attract females. After mating, the females then carve tiny slits in small tree branches and lay their eggs.

Happy ending? Not so fast:

The adult 17-year cicada lives for no more than a few weeks. After mating and egg-laying, they quickly die. When the eggs hatch later that same summer, the tiny nymphs climb down and burrow into the ground to begin their long underground development.

The Peabody exhibit includes video of these dramatic events, plus "a timeline detailing Yale’s historical involvement in 17-year cicada emergences dating back to 1843."

Filed under Peabody Museum, cicadas
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