Here on the West Coast, we are going to miss the once-every-17-year cicada invasion, but thanks to the Science Channel and its Cicada Cam, we can at least get a glimpse of the bugs about to overwhelm our friends back East.
The streaming live video of the insects with beady red eyes may be more gimmicky than scientific -- it's a plug for the Science Channel's cicada programming on Memorial Day weekend -- but it does provide a good look at the fascinating insects that are about to emerge on the East Coast by the billions.
The life cycle of the cicada is bizarre. Baby cicadas that look like white ants and are called nymphs hatch from rice-shaped eggs laid in the branches of trees.
Once the nymphs are strong enough to crawl around, they drop from the treetops and burrow into the ground, where they stay, surviving on fluid from roots of trees, for up to 17 years, depending on the species.
That whole time an internal clock is ticking, counting down the years until it is time for the entire generation to crawl back out of the ground. When the start of the appointed summer arrives, they emerge en masse and scramble into the treetops, where they grow wings and mate, noisily. The females lay their eggs in the tree branches, and the cycle begins again.
Cicadas don't bite or sting, so their abundance is likely their best defense from predators.
As Times writer Monte Morin explains, "By appearing suddenly in overwhelming numbers, scientists believe that predators such as birds, rodents, snakes and even fish become so full while feasting on the bugs that plenty more remain alive to mate and lay eggs."
I will admit that the abundance of cicadas visible on the Cicada Cam made me exclaim out loud, and that even now, after having turned away from the cam for several minutes, my skin is still feeling all creepy-crawly.
But I think it's worth the gross-out factor (and the gimmick factor) to check out an animal that has one of the most fascinating life cycles in the world.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times