John Oliver gets the cicadas caught up

Much of the U.S. is likely to see a lot of cicadas in the near future. As you probably know, these insects have a remarkable life cycle, living for 17 years underground, at the end of which they mature into adults with wings, come to the surface, take flight, mate. And that’s the end, though on balance, it doesn’t sound like such a terrible way to go.

The 17-year cicadas due to emerge this summer were conceived in 1999 and a lot has happened since then, so John Oliver offers this brief segment to fill them in on what they’ve missed:


Mayflies, incidentally, do something similar to cicadas. While they are thought of as having very short lifespans, that true only of the last phase of their lives. Prior to that they’ve typically lived a couple of years as so-called nymphs swimming around in water (though a lot of them are eaten by fish in that time). Eventually they develop into a winged form called a subimago, which flies poorly if at all and isn’t fully mature. But very soon, after anywhere from a few minutes to a day or so depending on the species, they moult again into the fully adult stage, called an imago, making mayflies the only insects that have two winged stages.

It’s the final, flying, mating stage of the mayfly life cycle, during which they can’t even eat, that is brief. Flying mayflies live up to a day or two in some species but far less in others. In one, Dolania americana, adult females live less than five minutes. As with cicadas, their swarms can be crazy, as in this report from CNN.

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