In recent years, people have paid a great deal of attention to insects and how they benefit humans. Some insects pollinate our fruit trees. Others provide food for birds and a variety of mammals–even humans. Insects also help convert waste into valuable nutrients. One of the dangers to the total insect population is over predation because so many animals eat them. One insect species solves the problem in a unique way. It is the periodic cicada or Magicicada that appears every 17 years. These insects suddenly emerge from the ground in massive numbers, as many as 1.5 million per acre, to overwhelm their predators.
Dr. Cliff Sadof of Purdue University has headed up research into the life cycle of cicadas. He tells us why we will have a massive amount of noise during the coming weeks from treetops all around us here in Indiana and other areas of the eastern United States. When the soil temperature reaches 64 degrees F at a depth of eight inches, the periodic cicada or Magicicada will start crawling out of the ground. In massive numbers, they climb up trees to molt. After molting, their bodies will be white as they unfold new wings. In a few hours, their bodies will harden, and the males will fly into the treetops and start singing to attract females.
After mating, the females will lay eggs in twigs with a saw-like egg-laying device called an ovipositor. After the eggs hatch, the nymphs will fall from the treetops and burrow into the ground, where they feed on sap from the tree roots. Seventeen years later, the nymphs will emerge and become adult cicadas repeating the cycle.
The cicadas are easy to see, good to eat, and plentiful in huge numbers. Birds, squirrels, and other insect-eating animals will gorge on the cicadas giving other insects a reprieve to recover their numbers. The soil around the trees will be aerated and enriched. The process will prune upper tree branches encouraging new growth.
In Indiana and many other states, the cycle is 17 years. In other regions, the periodic cicada or Magicicada has a 13-year cycle. Trying to explain how such a system came into existence by chance requires a tremendous amount of imagination. We suggest that cicadas are another example of wisdom built into the natural world by God to allow life to exist on planet Earth.
One of the ways people discover new materials and new applications is by learning from the natural world. Scientists have wondered how bugs that live in wet areas avoid water damage and bacterial infections. Researchers are using a fabrication process called nanoimprinting lithography to study the wings of Neotibicen pruinisus, the annual cicada found in the central region of the United States.
Cicada wings are made of a complex pillar-shaped nanostructure that repels water and prevents bacteria from establishing a foothold. New fabrication tools have enabled scientists to produce replicas of the wings and pillars. Entomologists at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have reported that this work will be beneficial in engineering applications across various subjects–everything from aircraft wings to medical equipment.
We look at what we feel are simple forms of life and fail to realize the complexity of their design. Earth is full of examples like the Cicada. Researchers are learning from the natural world. Everywhere we look, we find a wonder-working hand has gone before to allow life to exist all over the planet.
When God wanted to convince Job of His intelligence, power, and design (Job 38-41), He used astronomical and geologic creations and the design of an assortment of living things. Job responded by saying, “Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know” (Job 42:3). We must continue learning from the natural world God created because there is still much we don’t know. That is not just true of the material world but also of the spiritual world as well.
We often see an animal or plant with remarkable abilities or properties that are not obvious how they work. One of those is the mystery of cicada wings and raindrops.
Scientists studying cicadas have noticed that their wings repel water and have antimicrobial properties. Every past attempt to understand how this works has destroyed the wing before finding the answer. However, it did appear that there were layers to the wing.
Scientific American (September 2020, page 21) describes a new method of analysis called microwave-assisted extraction. Using that method on cicada wings, scientists at Sandia National Laboratories peeled back the outer layer revealing a fantastic design.
Under the outer chemical layers, cicada wings have structures called nanopillars. When scientists removed the nanopillars’ chemical layers, they became shorter and bent towards each other, making the wing structure so close that water could not penetrate it. The chemical layers on top of the nanopillars kill microbes.
Marianne Alleyne, an entomology professor at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, was the study’s senior author. She said this knowledge will help scientists understand how to use chemicals and structure to engineer new products. “We can design new materials more rationally, making choices about the structure and chemistry based on what we have observed in nature,” Alleyne said. This is one more example of how science can copy nature to give us new products.
Romans 1:20 tells us that we can know there is a God through the things He has made. The mystery of cicada wings and raindrops is another example to verify that statement and show us ways to improve our lives here on Earth.
You can read more about the research project HERE.