A Brood X cicada in Arlington, Va., May 2021, Courtesy of author.

What’s Bugging Us

The Brood X cicadas are here, which inspired us to see what buggy treats we have in the archives. 

They’re here. … In case you have not heard, there is a certain hum going on in the Washington, D.C., area this May and June. 2021 has brought the arrival of Brood X cicadas to the Mid-Atlantic region and some eastern parts of the United States. The area hasn’t seen Brood X since 2004 because they are on a 17-year cycle. Billions of periodical cicadas will have emerged from underground when it’s all finished, as part of the lifecycle. 

To show our appreciation for our little friends, we present some digital items from our collections that highlight the wonders of entomology. 

Press release about cicadas from 2004.

In a 2004 press release about the most recent arrival of the Brood X cicadas, the National Museum of Natural History wrote, “They don’t bite. They don’t sting. They don’t exactlysing. They just buzz, click, and sort of roar in a chorus. And they get in the way and underfoot – on sidewalks, on grass, on patios and balconies, and inside the house, if windows are open and unscreened. They are clumsy flyers!” The press release encouraged people to observe the insects due to their brief appearance. 

The O. Orkin Insect Zoo at the National Museum of Natural History has been encouraging people to learn more about live insects since 1976. The Smithsonian BugFest, an interactive event launched in 1995 to teach children and adults about insects, arachnids, and myriapods, was sponsored by the O. Orkin Insect Zoo and mostly staffed by the entomology department at the National Museum of Natural History. 

1997 BugFest attendees meet a person in a tobacco hornworm costume, Smithsonian Institution Archives, Accession 11-191, Image no. 97_35440.

Two costumed praying mantes from the All-American Bug Show entertain at the 1997 BugFest, Smithsonian Institution Archives, Accession 11-191, Image no. 97_35454.

Children paint butterflies at the 1997 BugFest, Smithsonian Institution Archives, Accession 12-173, Image no. 97_35485.

Attendees sample crickets at the 1999 BugFest, Smithsonian Institution Archives, Accession 12-173, Image no. 99_27209.

Boys learn about insects from the Maryland Entomological Society at the 1999 BugFest, Smithsonian Institution Archives, Accession 12-173, Image no. 99_27215.

Attendees pet a Madagascar hissing cockroach at the 2005 BugFest, by Ken Rahaim, Smithsonian Institution Archives, Accession 11-191, Image no. CRW_0833.

Children get a closer look at a tarantula at the 2005 BugFest by Ken Rahaim, Smithsonian Institution Archives, Accession 11-191, Image no. CRW_0935.

Children pet a tarantula at the 2005 BugFest by Ken Rahaim, Smithsonian Institution Archives, Accession 11-191, Image no. CRW_0942-marginal.

The Archives’ collections include videos and images that share the buzz of these events.  Attendees saw humans dressed in bug costumes, sampled food made from insects like cricket nachos, and learned about scientific illustration. And, of course, they could view both living and dead specimens like ants, caterpillars, and beetles up-close. The last BugFest was in 2005. 

While live critters are never welcomed in the Archives because of the damage they can cause, it is important to preserve and provide ongoing access to these collections documenting Smithsonian knowledge and its past events. 

Related Resources

Related PDFs: 

Leave a Comment

Produced by the Smithsonian Institution Archives. For copyright questions, please see the Terms of Use.