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Wetland Explorer
It is time for transitions
new deh wetland explorer cicada pic
A cicada is shown in the process of transforming into an adult. - photo by COURTESY PHOTO BY JEAN AYCOCK

 I almost missed it – as the Kansas Wetlands Education Center enjoyed our usual busy start to fall, we hosted USD 428’s sixth graders for a series of field trips. I stood under a mulberry tree on our nature trail, passing around the discarded husk of an immature cicada. As I described the incredible process these creatures go through to transform into adults (some species spends 17 years underground!), a student pointed towards the tree and asked, “Like that?” The whole class followed the gesture, and there it was at the base of the tree - a young cicada struggling to make its way into the world of adulthood.

In moments, every student (and every adult) was focused on watching this small creature. We watched as the cicada slowly emerged from its old exoskeleton. Its wings were curled at first, still soft and damp. They unfurled as the cicada worked its way free, becoming transparent and hardening. When the cicada had finally crawled out of its old skin, we stayed put and watched as it climbed the tree – watching it take its first steps as an adult.

The students were full of questions as we watched. Should we help the little guy out? Where will it go once it’s done? Where is the hole where it crawled out of the ground? How many other husks can we see on this one tree? How long do they live? Is that buzzing noise another cicada?

You’ve probably heard cicadas calling in the late summer. Once they emerge as adults, their mission is to find a mate and lay eggs for the next generation. Amazingly, for all that time spent underground adult cicadas only live for about a month. The students stared at their new friend (they’d named the cicada Bob) as they took in the idea that this little life we were watching would only be around for a few more weeks.

I’ve been spending time outdoors my entire life, and this was the first time I’d ever been lucky enough to see a cicada in the act of transformation. To get to share that experience with all of those students was incredible. We have a lot of fun on our nature hikes, but for one tiny insect to hold so many people’s attention was special. 

It’s experiences like this – getting to share the joy of watching nature’s transformations with children – that are one of the privileges of what we get to do here at KWEC. Each year we see thousands of students from schools all over the state of Kansas. We plan their field trips, work on providing educational programs, but really the hope is that each student will go through their own transformation. 

By sharing moments in nature with these young people, we hope to lead them to a better understanding of the world around them. We try to help them develop a connection to the plants, animals, water, sky, and earth. I don’t think those students will forget their cicada experience, and I know I won’t