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Plague of Locusts - The East Coast Cicadas

  • 2004 26 May
Plague of Locusts - The East Coast Cicadas

I was reading the news this week about the 17-year cicada swarm that is about to engulf the Eastern USA.  For those who aren't familiar with the cicadas, they are big, bulky insects, with green bodies and red eyes, about as big as an adult's thumb.  They hide under the ground in a larval state for 17 years, then come out of the ground in millions, to shed their shells, mate and then quickly die.  But in the meantime, they are everywhere and cover everything.   You can't walk without stepping on dozens of them.

I've lived through three of these swarms in my time.  The first was in 1981 here in Ohio.  I was a 20 year old college student who picked the *wrong* weekend to go camping with friends!  It rained just about the whole weekend, but it stopped for a while on the second night.  While sitting around the campfire, these creepy bugs crawled up out the ground, up our lawn chairs and onto our arms, legs and bodies.  It was like something out of a bad movie!  I still shudder to recall the feeling of these things crawling up the back of my neck!!!    

After college in 1987, I moved to the Washington DC area to take a job at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.  I arrive in mid-May, just in time for the eastern swarm of cicadas to emerge from their underground hideaway.  Though I wasn't camping that time, I remember driving to church up Rockville Pike with these fat flying bugs filling the air, splattering on the car's windshield by the dozen!

At night, the cicadas make this strange alien noise, reminiscent of the sound of a phaser from the original Star Trek show.  You could hardly sleep at night with all the noise they made.  It was like a biblical plague of locusts from the book of Exodus! In fact, the early settlers of the USA called these bugs "locusts" since they supposed these were the same creatures that the LORD inflicted on Pharaoh through Moses.

In 1999, the Ohio swarm again emerged, but we didn't see very many here in the city.  I had to drive with the kids so they could see them!  Now I read that the eastern swarm has emerged again in the Washington area.  All you parents will appreciate that I can't help but think, "Wow, the past 17 years since college days sure have passed quickly!"

But every time I see or hear of the 17 year cicadas, I can't help but wonder how could such a creature randomly evolve according to Darwinism?  What spontaneous environmental forces would require a species to live underground for 17 years, and then emerge and breed, only to die within days?  These bugs are so awkward and ungainly, they can barely fly or walk.  What sort of natural selection processes would result in such an insect so utterly unadapted to survival?

To my way of thinking, the 17 year cicada is an excellent conundrum for the disciples of Darwin.  Indeed, the "miracle of evolution" requires a faith of its own!  But for those of us who see the hand of the Creator in the natural world, the fat, clunky 17 year cicada also shows that the LORD has quite a sense of humor!

Jay Ryan is the author of "The Classical Astronomy Update," a free e-mail newsletter for helping Christian homeschool families learn more about events in the starry sky. If you would like to receive the Update, please drop Jay an e-mail at  Visit the Classical Astronomy web site –