YTread Logo
YTread Logo

Why Are Cicadas So Good At Math?

Jun 06, 2021
Wake up, my children. Our day is near. We have waited long enough, crawling under the world. Get up and find your destiny. Sing your song! SURGE UP!" They may look strange and scary, popping out of the ground with their glowing red eyes, but this isn't a zombie plague. It's the rise of the periodical

cicadas

. Cicadas are nothing to fear. They're not locusts, They won't kill your crops or eat your baby. Cicadas' mouthparts are more like straws than jaws, specially adapted to suck plant juices, and that's exactly what they've been doing, underground, for more than a decade.
why are cicadas so good at math
Some species of

cicadas

appear every year, brightening summer afternoons, but a genus known as Magicicada, or periodical cicadas, is special. It has the longest confirmed life cycle of all insects, and It only emerges every 13 or 17 years. You may notice something special about those numbers. They are prime numbers. The United States is home to 15 of these geographically distinct populations or broods. 12 are on a 17-year cycle and 3 follow a cycle. 13 years old. There are usually several species in a brood, but anywhere they will all emerge on the same schedule, which is what is happening this year in the American Midwest.
why are cicadas so good at math

More Interesting Facts About,

why are cicadas so good at math...

Wow, we have some cicadas watching periodically, you're probably feeling a little out of place. So let's see. The last time you woke up, we were playing Golden Eye, throwing out all those AOL test CDs and preparing for the truth and that 2000 computer bug was a thing. Computer error, you understand? Anyway, since then, we built that international space station where all the movies are about superheroes, oh, and we invented smartphones...pretty much so we can watch YouTube videos about cicadas in the bathroom. Don't worry, not everything has changed. Our presidential candidates are still named Bush, Clinton and we are all very excited about the next Star Wars trilogy.
why are cicadas so good at math
Other. How was the last one? Do not ask. No one is exactly sure how our cicada friends know it's time to get up, but in late spring of the scheduled year, when the ground temperature reaches 64 degrees Fahrenheit, juvenile cicadas emerge from the ground, climb trees and They achieve their goal. final form. There, the males will spend a couple of weeks singing their deafening love song. Now, this synchronized appearance is part of the cicadas' survival strategy. They are coming out in force, millions per square mile in some areas. Almost everything eats cicadas: birds, opossums, squirrels, reptiles, even dogs and people;
why are cicadas so good at math
It is a feeding frenzy, a crunching death on a massive scale. But hungry predators can only make a small dent in the population when they have eaten their fill, and since each female can lay hundreds of eggs at a time, the cicadas persist. We see this predator satiation strategy throughout nature, huge herds of wildebeest, salmon swimming upstream, even plants do it by producing all their fruits at once. But why prime numbers? Why not cycles of 4, 8 or 14 years? Here it is where it gets interesting. Predator populations also move in cycles, depending on how much food and competition there is, and that cycle will often change to fit the pattern of their prey.
Now, if cicadas had settled on, say, a 12-year pattern, then any predator with a 2, 3, 4, or 6-year cycle could also adapt to rely on feasting. But by appearing every 17 years, cicadas minimize these deadly coincidences. A predator whose population changes every 5 years would only align with cicadas every 85 years! 2015 is a special year for periodic cicadas, because a 13-year-old and a 17-year-old chick are born at the same time. These cicadas also use prime numbers to protect each other. We know that there is something in cicada genes that keeps each chick in its 13- or 17-year cycle. The offspring are usually separated geographically, but if they overlap and exchange genes, it could disrupt the entire synchronized cycle of each group.
So cicadas use their prime number patterns to minimize that possibility, appearing only at the same party every 221 years. The hatchlings that emerge this year will not sing simultaneously again until the year 2236! The big question is how did they come to calculate prime numbers? How do cicadas know how to do

math

? Well… they don't. Stephen Jay Gould once compared evolution's synchronized satiation strategy to Adam Smith's invisible hand in economics. Each cicada aims to help itself, to pass on its genes to the next generation. No individual chooses to join the group, but anyone who doesn't follow the cycle and emerge alone is easy prey and, sorry, no breeding for you!
In the end, this accidental cooperation, based on individual choices, ends up helping the population as a whole. As Gould wrote: "Sometimes it is advantageous to put all your eggs in one basket, but be sure to make enough and do not do it too often." Stay curious.

If you have any copyright issue, please Contact