Brood III broodings.

One component of the MLIS LEEP program at UIUC that attracted me to it was the on-campus meeting scheduled for every class, every semester. I greatly value the opportunity to meet my instructors and classmates in person. For me, though, the requisite travel has an added bonus this year.

I’m not going to lie, even way back when I applied last year, I was thrilled at the prospect of travelling to Illinois in June 2014. Not just because I feel that living in San Francisco deprives me of a real summer, but because of a once-in-an-arthropodan-lifetime event: the emergence of 17-year cicadas. Getting my admission decision was doubly a reason to celebrate, and after my coworker congratulated me, we shared a rousing chant of “Brood III! Brood III! BROOD III!”

So, what am I on about?

Magicicada, also known as periodical cicada (or, erroneously, locusts), spend most of their lives underground, feeding on tree sap. While cicada are all over the world, periodical cicada are a uniquely North American phenomenon - and only eastern North America, at that! They are set apart by the length of their subterranean stay, emerging every 13 or 17 years. Distinct, localized populations are called “Broods,” which are numbered in accordance with the sequence of the emergence years. Last year, therefore, when I traveled to Staten Island to see the 17-year cicada emergence there, I was encountering Brood II.

Citizen scientist opportunities abound around the emergence of cicadas, although many, like the above ground existence of the magicicada, are ephemeral. One mainstay is Magicicada.org’s Brood Mapping Project, which allows people to report a sighting, and uses the information to create a searchable database. 

A magicicada encounter is a lovely experience, provided you aren’t squeamish about insects. I find their song to be one of the most enchanting sounds on our earth, but for the curious who’d prefer a more static experience, I highly recommend the Staten Island Museum magicicada exhibit, running through Spring 2015.