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How the cicada invasion is bringing people together

The deeper meaning of the cicada phenomenon
How the cicada phenomenon is capturing our collective attention 03:25

Kristi Shirley has been captivated by the army of cicadas marching up trees at a park near her home in southern Illinois.

"There's nothing like it. It's just like, wow, is this what we're watching in front of our eyes?" Shirley said.

By now, you've probably seen the headlines: two groups of periodical cicadas are emerging at the same time for the first time in two centuries, with billions of the noisy bugs showing up in 16 U.S. states.

But biologist Gene Kritsky says there may be a deeper meaning to this insect invasion. The cicadas are coming together at a time when it's all too easy to see what keeps people apart, as if nature is (once again) trying to capture our collective attention.

In April, large crowds gathered to watch the total eclipse of the sun. Earlier this month, millions of people marveled as the northern lights danced across the night sky. The two events were accurately predicted by astronomers.

"Now we're seeing periodical cicadas coming out of the ground, predicted by entomologists. And at a time when people have lost faith in science, this shows that science works and we get it right," Kritsky said.

These natural events offer a kind of shared experience for people to set aside their differences and come together to marvel at Mother Nature. 

"I was at an eclipse party, and there were people there from all political persuasions and we didn't talk politics. We watched the solar eclipse," Kritsky said.

Now Kritsky has created an app called Cicada Safari to track where and when the bugs arrive. It's bringing together people who find something special in the unique-looking insects — people like Shirley, who calls herself a "super user" of the app, and Blaine Rothauser, who struck up a conversation with Shirley about the cicadas just minutes after meeting her at the park near her home. 

The power of the cicadas seemed to give these total strangers something to bond over. Instead of questions like 'What you do?', 'What you believe in?' or 'Who you support?', Krisky says  that "what's important is, are we all curious?"

And while it may often feel like people live in separate worlds, we actually share one.

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