The Atlantic Daily: Cicadas Have an Existential Problem

The buzz is back, and there’s more to cicadas than meets the eye.

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Just in case you missed the news—say you’ve been living underground for the past 17 years—parts of the eastern United States are in for a cicada summer, wherein billions of the bugs emerge en masse to fly around, mate, and then die.

I live in California, which is not exactly cicada territory. But I also live on the internet, and know that, after a year of plague, Americans can’t stop talking about them.

This Friday, we present to you three fun facts about these fantastic creatures, to sharpen your understanding as we head toward Peak Cicada:

1. They find strength in numbers.

Swarming is an evolutionary strategy: “So many come out at once that even the most gluttonous predators can’t nom the bugs into extinction,” Katherine J. Wu reports.

2. They contain multitudes.

“Every 17-year cicada … is effectively dozens of organisms in a single body,” my colleague Ed Yong reports. The insects can’t survive without the bacteria that live inside them, but their relationship with these microbes has become absurdly complicated and unwieldy.

3. They are threatened by a parasite that effectively drugs them.

As Ed memorably puts it: “Imagine emerging into the sun after 17 long years spent lying underground, only for your butt to fall off.”

Have cicada questions? Tell us.


Watch.

Today’s big, buzzy TV release is The Underground Railroad, Barry Jenkins’s adaptation of the Pulitzer Prize–winning book by Colson Whitehead. It’s now streaming on Amazon in full.

“By homing in on the ways the earth shapes the characters’ stories, Jenkins’s adaptation adds visual and sonic texture to Whitehead’s magical-realist vision,” our staff writer Hannah Giorgis observes.

Read.

New novels by Rachel Cusk and Jhumpa Lahiri explore the liberating power of isolation, Claire Dederer writes.

Meanwhile, a previously unreleased novel by Richard Wright, “the father figure of African American literature,” makes the case that Wright “deserves to be looked at with fresh eyes,” Imani Perry writes.

Listen.

First, new music: St. Vincent, who has an album out today, maintains a kind of classic rock-and-roll mystique. Today that’s out of vogue, Spencer Kornhaber argues.Then, a classic, revisited: John Denver’s “Take Me Home, Country Roads” sold America to a generation of Asian immigrants, Jason Jeong writes.

For podcast fans: In this week’s episode of The Experiment, our staff writer Emma Green argues that “evangelical” is not a religious identity, but a political one. Listen to the half-hour episode.


Every weekday evening, our editors guide you through the biggest stories of the day, help you discover new ideas, and surprise you with moments of delight. Subscribe to get this delivered to your inbox.