Once every 17 years, swarms of cicadas emerge in vast numbers across large portions of the Eastern United States.1 The life cycle of these amazing creatures—one of the longest-living insects on earth—is a real mystery to evolutionists.

They’re more than a curiosity for AiG’s biologists, however. This year, the cicadas” path will cross the Creation Museum property in Northern Kentucky, just as we begin planting 1,250 young trees and shrubs to beautify the grounds.

Actually they’re harmless

Cicada

An invasion of so-called “17-year locusts.” Sounds ominous. After all, swarms of true locusts can eat everything green in sight.

Not to worry. Cicadas belong to a completely different insect order from locusts. Confusion arises because many Americans still call these critters “locusts,” apparently because early pioneers confused cicadas with the marauding grasshoppers of the Old World.

Swarming cicadas have a completely different goal from locusts—they emerge to reproduce, not to feed.

The only noticeable damage occurs when females lay eggs in newly planted shade trees. They cut two slits into small twigs, where they deposit 24–28 eggs. This weakens the tips of the branches, which sometimes break. But the damage is minimal and temporary.

Cicadas” amazing life cycle

Cicadas come in two forms: annual and periodic. “Annual” cicadas, which have a typical life cycle ranging from 2 to 8 years, appear each spring around the world. But periodic cicadas, which appear every 13 or 17 years, are found only in eastern North America.

There are at least 15 “broods” of periodic cicadas, each appearing in different locations in different years. But the one that is appearing this week—Brood X—is the largest one of all. Its total numbers may reach into the trillions!

The nymphs, which feed on roots for 17 years, come out of the ground to mate, deposit eggs in twigs and die. These eggs hatch in a few weeks, the young nymphs drop to the ground and burrow to nearby roots, and the life cycle begins again.

Cicadas are harmless … except for the annoying buzz (and reportedly the smell of rotting carcasses).

A mystery to evolutionists

The cicada’s cycle is one of many “mysteries” of nature, which we hope to address in the Creation Museum, now under construction.

Evolutionists say that the cicadas “have evolved an effective strategy to overwhelm predators by sheer volume.”2 They recognize that the cicada enjoys a fantastic advantage in the fight for survival. Since predators quickly become satiated, the vast majority of cicadas are free to mate and reproduce.

It is not known how cicadas synchronize their life cycles over 13 or 17 years, however—or how they manage to count out the years.

“Explaining the evolution of such an unusual life strategy is one of the most difficult problems for periodical cicada biologists,” according to the University of Michigan Museum of Zoology.3

The challenge is not to explain why there are so many broods of cicadas. Despite the difficulty of studying these insects, which reproduce so rarely, biologists have learned that their life cycle sometimes accelerates and they emerge 4 years early. Eventually, this can lead to several broods—and even new species, because the cicadas are no longer able to mate (see Q&A: Speciation).

No, the question is how the nymphs, separated by hundreds of miles, know when to burrow out of the ground at the same time.

This amazing skill points to programmed design.

“Why do certain insects take only one year to develop, and others take two or three? It’s just part of their genetic programming,” said Greg Hoover, senior extension entomologist for Penn State University.4

The cicadas follow an “inborn, biological clock,” says Chris Simon, a professor of ecology and evolutionary biology who has been studying cicadas for over 25 years. While nymphs sometimes reach maturity years apart, “All the adults come out within two or three days of each other,” she says in amazement.5

Simon believes this cycle evolved millions of years ago as a phenomenal survival strategy. But where did the programming come from? Nobody has a clue, but these biologists still believe in the millions of years. And why would the periodic cicadas bother to evolve such a strategy when the annual ones survive just fine? What were the gradual steps and what selective advantage did they have? The doctrine of “millions of years” is a belief, not subject to negotiation or scientific investigation (see Games Some People Play).

No mystery to the Creator

Amazing programming is no mystery to anyone who believes that an infinitely wise Creator designed the infinitely complex DNA that we observe all around us. Information comes from information, and design points to a Designer (see Q&A: Design).6

Recognizing a designer is common sense, and we see examples of it every day—for instance, automobiles, watches, and computers point to intelligent designers, not random processes.

In contrast, does nature provide examples of complex, self-replicating information arising randomly? No.

Those who reject the infallible history of the Bible “have some explaining to do.” They choose to believe—a priori—that millions of years and random processes gave rise to all the complex programming we see in DNA today.

At the Creation Museum, on the other hand, we want people to see that the world makes sense if you begin your thinking with the Bible. Christians can look at nature, such as the 17-year cicadas, and wonder

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Footnotes

  1. Different broods of 17-year cicadas emerge in different areas in different years. The largest of these broods is emerging this week in Kentucky, Tennessee and several other American States. The scientific name of this year’s brood is Magicicada septendecim (the Latin name for the species means “17’). Back
  2. Roach, J., Cicada invasion: eastern U.S. braces for bug swarm, National Geographic News, ‹news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2004/03/0329_040329_cicadas.html›, 20 April 2004. Back
  3. University of Michigan Museum of Zoology “Cicada Page,” ‹insects.ummz.lsa.umich.edu/fauna/michigan_cicadas/Periodical/Index.html›, 2 May 2004. Back
  4. Associated Press, Swarm of cicadas takes aim at U.S., ‹www.cnn.com/2004/US/Northeast/03/12/cicadas.return.ap/›, 12 March 2004. Back
  5. E. Omara-Otunnu, Lifecycles of cicada species are focus of biologist’s research, University of Connecticut Advance, ‹www.advance.uconn.edu/2004/040426/04042611.htm›, 26 April 2004. Back
  6. While the life cycle of periodic cicadas clearly points to design, we do not mean to imply that its original function was necessarily a “survival strategy.” However, it may have been, since cicadas are probably not nephesh chayyah (‘living creatures” in the biblical sense) and hence are not, biblically speaking, capable of death per se. See Why Does God’s Creation Include Death and Suffering? in The New Answers Book. Back