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Primes is in Nature

April 28, 2010

Well, the title of my post resembles the title of very famous paper on primality test by my IITK batch mates Neeraj Kayal and Nitin Saxena, but I am not going to talk about any maths here rather share this information about how nature has incorporated prime numbers in the evolution process of certain species. Magicicada is one of the genus of cicada species and are primarily found in eastern US and they have a very interesting periodic life cycle pattern. They follow either a 13 or 17 year life cycle pattern where after hatching from the eggs, and lying under the ground for 13 or 17 years, all of them emerge at once on the surface. Emergence of all the adult cicadas after 13/17 years is well synchronized. After they come on the surface in hundreds and thousands, they mate and reproduce and live for few weeks before they die. Female cicadas lays hundreds of eggs in the bark of the trees which hatch and the nymphs fall on the ground and ultimately burrow themselves beneath the ground for another 13/17 years and life cycle goes on. Interesting thing to note is the 13/17 years of cycle, they both are prime numbers. Such prime cycles help them in protecting themselves from the predators. Most of the cicada predators have small life cycles of 2-5 years and so firstly, these predators cannot evolve themselves to eat cicadas, secondly, the life cycles of cicadas (being in primes) rarely coincides with their predators’ life cycle and thus helps them in preserving their species. Even when it coincides once in a while, their sudden occurrence in large numbers comes to their advantage. I found this whole cicada life cycle very interesting; Nature is simply amazing, isn’t it. Next set of cicadas are going to emerge in West Virginia during Apr-May 2012!!

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons: T. Nathan Mundhenk

Filed under: Science,Trivia

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1 Comment Leave a Comment

  • 1. Neha  |  April 29, 2010 at 12:50 pm

    Cicadas look like Fruitfly but their emrgence pattern and coccon is very different in appearance, Its interesting to note that the cocoon has leg like structures too !

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