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Staten Island Museum Gets Ready for 17 Year Return of Cicadas

By Nicholas Rizzi | December 17, 2012 9:48am

ST. GEORGE — This spring, cicadas will make their 17-year return visit to Staten Island, and a local museum will welcome them back with an exhibit.

The Staten Island Museum will host the “They’re Baaack! Return of the 17-year Cicadas” exhibit in February to mark the arrival of the cyclical bugs, properly called genus magicicada, said Diane Matyas, director of programs for the museum.

The exhibit will take a humorous look at the life cycle of the cicadas, and shed light on some questions residents may have about the insects, such as why do show up every 17 years, and if they’re as dangerous as they look and sound.

“Everything's sort of couched with a sense of humor,” Matyas said. “It’s OK to be scared, but not too scared.”

Staten Island has the largest population of cyclical cicadas in the city, Matyas said. The red-eyed insects stay underground from birth until they are 17, then come to the surface to mate.

“They come up to have sex and to die and to eat a little bit,” she said. “These are all teenagers that are coming back up to frolic.”

Cicadas are the loudest bug of the spring season, Matyas said, and are known for the synchronized “song” they use to attract a mate.

The museum has the second largest collection of cicadas in the world, which will be displayed on walls throughout the exhibit, Matyas said.

The museum will also feature trailers of famous movies that show insects, a Google Map of where the cicadas are emerging, lessons on how to pin cicadas and make them out of origami, and original art on the bugs from local artists.

“They have to be Staten Islanders,” Matyas said. “They have to be from the earth, just like the cicada are.”

Also on display will be a comic from a local artist introducing the bugs, their life cycle, and previous appearances on Staten Island, including a “disco cicada” from their visit in the 1970s.

The museum has also released a "cicada song" and has asked residents who have cicada merchandise — from T-shirts marking their last appearance in 1996, to earrings, glass plates and more — to lend to their collection.

“We need more, lots more,” Matyas said.

The exhibit, which runs every time the cicadas come above ground, has previously attracted visitors from Japan and other Asian countries, who view the insect as a symbol of rebirth and the cycle of life, Matyas said.

Aside from the whimsical exhibit, the arrival of the cicadas will also add more of the insects to the museum’s collection for research purposes.

The exhibit will open to the public on Feb. 16, 2013, and will run for at least a year, Matyas said.

Anybody interested in lending the museum cicada-themed merchandise can contact contact Ed Johnson, the museum’s director of science, at 718-483-7110 or e-mail EJohnson@StatenIslandMuseum.org before January 25, 2013.