East coast periodic cicadas—prepare children to comfortably view these interesting insects

Children use a magnifier to first look at drawings of a beetle, and then at the live animal.When I’m introducing young children to a small live animal, such as a worm or a beetle, I may first offer them a chance to use a magnifier to look at a photograph of the animal, up close. From there we may progress to looking at the worm inside a small clear container (with some moisture for its comfort), and later, if the children are interested, they may hold a worm in their hand. “Later” may be in five minutes or in five weeks—it’s important not to rush this hands-on investigation. This gradual introduction may not be necessary for many children (and adults). Author John McCormick tells of his sons’ exposure to cicadas in “Parenting Lessons From Nature’s Creepy Crawlers”.

Adult cicada emerges from its exoskeleton.

Not every cicada is a “periodic” cicada. Some are “annual” cicadas, with life spans of 2-5 years.

If you live on the East Coast you may have heard that the periodic cicada Brood II mature nymphs are now emerging from the ground in large pockets from North Carolina to Virginia to New Jersey to New York and Connecticut. They climb onto a leaf or other structure and cast off their “shells” or exoskeletons, which are exuviae—the remains after an insect molts from the nymph stage into an adult form, and slowly unfold their wings. You can report cicada sightings to help map the extent of different broods:



Or use maps to find out if you will be lucky enough to see more than a few of these interesting insects:




If you aren’t lucky enough to have huge numbers of periodic cicadas in your neighborhood, watch and listen to this short video narrated by Sir David Attenborough who gets a close up visit as he relates information about their lifecycle.

Comment below to describe your children’s close encounters with small animals and to list your favorite cicada website.


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One Comment

  1. Marie Faust Evitt
    Posted June 2, 2013 at 12:12 am | Permalink

    We won’t get to see the cicadas out here in California, unfortunately. Thank you for sharing John McCormick’s story of his sons’ exposure to cicadas. I really agree with his comment, “fear of animals — or of nature itself — is taught and passed on from generation to generation. If we want our children to be true stewards and lovers of nature, we need to teach them to be so.”

    I see this often with preschoolers in my class who scream and smash spiders because that’s what their parents do.

    A strategy that I finds helps children get comfortable with creatures such as spiders, insects and earthworms is to make large models out of familiar materials such as paper bags. When children make a model of a spider, for example, they are in control and have an opportunity to notice details. The two body parts and eight pipe cleaner legs of “their” spider don’t seem frightening. In fact, the model often looks a little silly, a big confidence-booster which encourages closer observation: What makes our model look silly compared to a real spider?

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