Take a look around. Which insects do you see? A fly sitting on your computer screen, a mosquito buzzing in your ear just as you drop off to sleep, a butterfly flitting about in the garden outside, or how about the ants that made off with the remains of a dead moth?
Most of the insects we see around us have rather short lives. A few hours, a few days, that’s about how long most insects last. We don’t notice them dying out because they’re promptly replaced by a new bunch. Yet, some insects live comparatively really long lives.
The longest living insects are the Splendour beetles (Buprestidae), some of which remain in the larva stage for more than 30 years. Queen termites (Isoptera), previously thought to live 10 years or more, are now known to have a maximum life span of about 15 years.
Apart from these two insects, the Cicada actually lives for 17 years. The lifecycle of the ‘music-making’ Cicada is very interesting. The female Cicada lays eggs in the twigs of trees. When the young one (nymph) is hatched from the egg, it drops down to the ground.
Then it burrows itself into the ground and attaches itself to the roots of plants and trees. Here it remains motionless for about 17 years, sucking at the sap of the roots. After this long ‘burial’, it is driven by some mysterious instinct to move out towards the light. It climbs the tree trunks and its skin splits open. The mature Cicada emerges.
For about five weeks, the Cicada leads an active life in sunlight. After this period it just dies. It spends 17 years buried under a tree for just five weeks of active life!
The male Cicada makes a shrill sound, which can be heard in the countryside. This is probably a mating call to the females. According to scientists, the noise-producing organs of the Cicada are probably the most complicated musical organs found in nature. The male Cicada has little drum-like plates, which constantly vibrate by muscles that never seem to tire.
There are more than 800 species of Cicada, 100 of which are found in North America. The 17-year Cicada is found only in the United States. Most of the other species live only for two years.