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Discovery Magazine 11/1/2004

Go to Your Room – for 17 Years!

by  Brad Harrub, Ph.D.

Most of us can remember doing something that we weren’t supposed to do. Maybe we broke our mom’s favorite vase, shattered a window with a baseball, colored on the walls, or told a lie. Occasionally, youractions may have resulted in one of your parents uttering those dreaded words: “Go to your room, until I say you may come out!” Inside your room, those minutes or hours can feel like days as time slowly drags by. But can you imagine being sent to your room for 17 years?! That would be almost all of your childhood spent staring at the same four walls. And yet, 17 years is exactly how long one amazing insect lives underground. Meet the 17-year cicada (a close relative of the 13-year cicada). Cicadas are flying insects with a dark-colored body that are often called locusts —although they’re not true locusts.

Cicadas, like all insects, are arthropods—meaning they have jointed legs and a hard exoskeleton. Cicadas are harmless to humans, but they can be a nuisance. For instance, they’re extremely attracted to particular sounds, such as lawn mowers and weed eaters—so beware. Another part of being an arthropod means they’re cold blooded, and therefore are unable to keep their body at a stable, warm temperature.

This year, “Brood X,” the largest 17-year group, hatched out billions of cicadas. That means 17 years ago in 1987 (before many of you were even born!), some adult cicadas laid eggs inside tree branches. After the eggs hatched, tiny nymphs (the infant stage of cicadas) fell to the ground and burrowed into the soil. While underground, they dined (for 17 years!) on underground roots, slowly growing until their periodic cycle caused them to emerge again as adults. As adults, cicadas have a very limited lifespan—they normally live only about six weeks above ground. Can you imagine waiting around for 17 years, only to come above ground for six weeks?!

Evolution cannot explain why an insect would spend exactly 17 years buried underground. Only God can give animals internal clocks that work that well. While it may seem odd to us, we know today that God created many amazing animals that perform unique tasks. Seventeen-year cicadas represent just one of those amazing groups of creatures.



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