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NATURE

They’re Baaaaccck!

April 17th, 2013

Cicada. Brood II cicadas will have mostly red eyes. Photo credit: C. Heitler/HTE Kids News

We hope you like bugs, because if you live in the eastern U.S., Nature is about to put on an incredible show. And it’s been 17-years in the making!

It’s even being compared to the Super Bowl for people who study bugs (called entomologists).

There are the regular cicadas that come around every year (pronounced si-kay-da). But the group we’re about to see only comes every 17 years! They’re called Magicicadas.

For the past 17-years — longer than most HTE readers have been alive — these cicadas have been living a quiet life underground, feeding on the sap of tree roots. I bet you had no idea they were there. We sure didn’t!

Now, they’re ready to come out. And there will be BILLIONS and BILLIONS of them! They’re expected to be seen from North Carolina up through Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York and Connecticut.

There’s nothing to fear … they wouldn’t hurt a fly, or you! In fact, they do important work for the environment. They add air to the soil on their way up from underground. Their bodies decompose when they die and become new nutrients for the soil. And they’re an excellent snack for birds and other animals.

But they are noisy! Cicada expert, Michael Raupp, told HTE Kids News that all together they’ll be about as loud as a rock concert or a jet plane! And, in some places, their shells will form a crunchy carpet under your feet!

So, when are they coming? When the ground consistently reaches about 64 degrees Farenheit, 8 inches below the ground. That could be in the coming days or weeks, even into May and June. You can be a citizen scientist by getting a soil thermometer at least 8 inches deep and keeping track.

How do they know to come out exactly 17 years after they went underground? Good question. Professor Raupp believes they have a kind of internal calendar where they can count the years by the changes in the nutrients of the trees year-to-year (amazing!).

And the craziest part of it all? After spending 17 years underground, they only live for about a month after they come out!

When they come out of the ground, they shed their shell (which you might see left behind on trees), spread their wings, find a mate, and have babies. The babies will then go underground and start the whole cycle again.

This time, you’re both kids. But their children will come visit you again in 2030!  How old will you be then?

*****

There are lots of great cicada resources, if you’d like to learn more.

Cicada expert, Michael Raupp has a blog called  Bug Of The Week , and we’d like to thank him for consulting with HTE Kids News on this story.

There’s a website called Cicadamania .

There’s also a website called Magicicada .

The Staten Island Museum has an exhibit going on right now about the 17-year cicadas, and you can learn how to be a citizen cicada scientist.

You can track the temperatures and see maps of where they’re expected here at WNYC as well.

And there are a couple of good videos below:

Visit NBCNews.com for breaking news , world news , and news about the economy

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