Written by: on June 25, 2013 @ 1:37 pm

After 17 years underground, billions of cicadas are ready to emerge and see sunlight for the first time. They will blanket the East Coast until around mid-June, buzzing like jackhammers in harmony as they search for a mate. Since 1996, the periodical insects, which belong to a group called Brood II, have lived as nymphs two feet deep in the soil, feeding on nothing but the liquid they suck out of tree roots. Once they crawl up to the surface, they molt, mate, lay eggs and die within a month.

Scientists are still trying to determine how periodical cicadas know when to emerge. But in the last 17 years, researchers have made some other important discoveries about other insects, some of whom also enjoy swarming the United States. From the oldest fossil to the newest findings, the Cicadas have missed out on a lot since 1996! Check out our list of the top 10 discoveries that will have these bugs a buzzing this month!

#10. British Researchers Figured Out How Insects Fly. 

In 1996, scientists at the University of Cambridge solved the mystery of how many winged insects can produce more lift than can be explained by aerodynamic properties. The team unleashed hawkmoths into a wind tunnel with smoke and then took high-speed photos of the insects in flight. By studying how the smoke moved around the moths’ wings, researchers were able to determine that flying insects create whirling spirals of air above the front edges of their wings, providing more lift.

#9. Scientists Uncovered an Entire New Order of Insects. 

In 2002, entomologists discovered a group of inch-long wingless creatures that comprised a new order, a taxonomic rank used in the classification of organisms. The first to be identified in 88 years at that time, the order, dubbed Mantophasmatodea, consists of insects with features similar to praying mantises. The finding became the 31st known insect order.

#8The World’s Largest Insect was Discovered in New Zealand.

Scientist Mark Moffett, known as Doctor Bugs, discovered the world’s largest insect, a surprisingly friendly female Weta bug, while traveling in New Zealand in 2011. The massive creature has a wingspan of seven inches and weighs three times as much as a mouse. Here’s a video of the bug eating a carrot out of Moffett’s hand.

#7. Brood X Invaded the East Coast. 

In 2004, another group of cicadas known as Brood X emerged after 17 years underground. The bugs’ motto? Strength in numbers. This class is the largest of the periodical insects, including three different species of cicada.

#6. Researchers Pinpointed the World’s Oldest Known Insect Fossil. 

Until 2004, a 400 million-year-old set of tiny insect jawsoriginally found in a block of chert along with a well-preserved and well-studied fossil springtaillay untouched for almost a century in a drawer at the Natural History Museum in London. The rediscovery and subsequent study of the specimen meant that true insects appeared 10 million to 20 million years earlier than once thought. The researchers believe these ancient insects were capable of flight, which would mean the tiny creatures took to the skies 170 millions years ago, before flying dinosaurs.

#5.  America’s Bee Population Started to Plummet. 

By spring of 2007, more than a quarter of the country’s 2.4 million honeybee colonies had mysteriously vanished. Something prevented the bees from returning to their hives, and scientists weren’t sure why, but they gave it a name: colony-collapse disorder. According to a recent report by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the phenomenon continues to plague apiaries across the country, and no cause has been determined.

#4. Scientists Figured Out How to Extract DNA From Preserved Insect Specimens. 

In 2009, researchers removed a barrier from the study of early insects, a practice that often left ancient specimens destroyed. In the pasttoo much tinkering around with tiny specimens meant that the samples often became contaminated or eventually deteriorated. The scientists soaked nearly 200-year-old preserved beetles in a special solution for 16 hours, a process that allowed them to then carefully extract DNA from the bugs without damaging them.

#3.  A Swarm of Butterflies, Thought to be One Single Species, Turned Out to be 10 of Them.

In 2004, researchers used DNA barcoding technology to study the Astraptes fulgerator butterfly, whose habitat ranges from Texas to northern Argentina. What they found was remarkable: an insect that was thought to be one species was actually 10 different species. The species’ habitats overlapped, but the butterflies never bred with its doppelganger neighbors.

#2. The First Truly Amphibious Insects Were Discovered. 

In 2011, a study reported that 11 species of caterpillar with the ability to live underwater indefinitely were found in freshwater streams in Hawaii. The twist? The same insects studied were land-dwellers too.

#1. A Fly Found in Thailand was Determined to be the Smallest in the World. 

Discovered in 2012, the fly, named Euryplatea nanaknihali, is 15 times smaller than a house fly and tinier than a grain of salt. But don’t let the miniature bugs fool you; they feed on tiny ants by burrowing into the larger insects’ head casings, eventually decapitating them.

You can see the full list of insect discoveries that the 17-year Cicadas missed in the May Issue of Smithonian’s Surprising Science Magazine: Leaproaches, Mutant Butterflies and Other Insect News That the 17-Year Cicadas Missed


Want to Learn More? Check Out These Great Insect Resources:

Koday’s Kids: Insect Guide50 Activities for Learning & Playing with InsectsUniversity of KY – Entomology for Kids:10 Weirdest Insects in the WorldBugs for the Young Science Explorer Going Buggy with Scholastic.com

Catogories: E-News HTHT, Hot Topics: Science in the News, Uncategorized

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