insects

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While no one enjoys seeing carefully nurtured crops destroyed by hordes of hungry insects, the most common way to prevent it – the use of insecticides – is causing massive ecological problems.

Some are wreaking havoc on bee populations globally, killing birds and piling onto the challenges already faced by endangered species. Thankfully, insecticides are generally only in our food at low levels, but they do harm humans who are highly exposed to them too, like the workers growing our crops.

They also destroy predatory insect populations, which just makes the problem of crop pests worse in the long term - with fewer pest enemies around to keep their numbers in check.

One alternative that researchers and farmers have been putting to the test is the use of predatory insects to control the problematic plant eaters. However, this approach, known as biological control, has its own challenges.

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A big event in the insect world is approaching. Starting sometime in April or May, depending on latitude, one of the largest broods of 17-year cicadas will emerge from underground in a dozen states, from New York west to Illinois and south into northern Georgia. This group is known as Brood X, as in the Roman numeral for 10.

For about four weeks, wooded and suburban areas will ring with cicadas' whistling and buzzing mating calls. After mating, each female will lay hundreds of eggs in pencil-sized tree branches.

Then the adult cicadas will die. Once the eggs hatch, new cicada nymphs fall from the trees and burrow back underground, starting the cycle again.

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