How Do Cicadas Stay Nourished With So Little To Feed On?
We all know cicadas by their loud humming sounds, but there are some things about cicadas that researchers are only now beginning to understand. For one thing, cicadas are one of nature’s most successful creatures, and this is in spite of having a poor diet that is lacking in nutrients. Since millions of cicadas can inhabit a small area of land, then you can understand how finding sustenance could be a problem for them. But cicadas do not necessarily rely on external sources of nutrients in order to survive. According to John McCutcheon, a University of Arizona molecular biologist, cicadas receive nourishment from bacteria that exists in their cells.
Researchers believe that cicadas could possibly be the most abundant herbivores in the world in terms of weight and their population numbers within the forests of North America. However, it has long remained a mystery as to how cicadas are able to achieve such staggering population rates despite subsisting on a diet that is not abundant in nutrients. While cicadas are developing during their seventeen year stay underground they feed on the sap of plant routes, which is the part of a plant containing the least amount of nutrients. According to McCutcheon, cicadas do need a significant amount of nutrients in order to survive, but cicadas do not gather these nutrients from external sources; rather, cicadas maintain a symbiotic relationship with bacteria that is produced in their cells.
Eventually, McCutcheon analyzed the genome of the bacteria living within the cells of cicadas, and he found that this organism has the smallest bacterial genome yet discovered. Also, the genome of the cicadas’ bacteria contains high amounts of guanine and cytosine. This was a surprise to researchers since other organisms with very little genetic material have low amounts of guanine and cytosine. These discoveries have changed the way biologists think about genetics, and research into cicadas’ bacteria is still ongoing.
Do you think that other insects could also possess bacteria with very little genetic material? Could the discovery explained in the above article be more common to insects than researchers think?