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Indulging in the Swarmageddon

A visual inspiration from the about-to-visit periodical cicadas

May 15, 2013

If you’re in this part of the world, it’s hard not to know that they’re coming – judging by what some of the media are announcing, we’re about to get waist-deep in a big horde of large and fierce flying red-eyed insects, aka cicadas.

For the joy of some and disappointment of others, it’s not going to be quite like that, despite the affectionate name of the event, swarmageddon. But there are certainly some areas of the eastern coast of the United States where well-populated emergences of the 17-year periodical Magicicada will cover the ground and trees, and numb everyone’s hearing.

This is an ideal occasion to learn more and more about these creatures; it is also presenting fun and engaging tinkering and tracking opportunities and even cooking opportunities! It has been reminding me of some of the Mediterranean cicada folklore, especially in the region of Provence.

Fig. 1 – adult Magicicada

The swarmageddon commotion is revealing of how modern western societies have become unaccustomed with nature. The perspective of such a direct and non-requested interaction with insects is making many people uncomfortable, despite that they are harmless creatures and minding their own business.

As I reflected about this I remembered the work of Eugène Séguy. The French early-20th century designer created Art Deco and Art Nouveau assemblages from nature, using mostly insects and plants. The depictions are absolutely accurate from a scientific standpoint and with each published album he would include a table of scientific names, providing the species identification as well as the geographic regions where they can be found. And these were no local regions; Sèguy strived to represent the catchy tropical species from Africa, Australia, South America, Borneo, New Guinea and Southeast Asia, which he obtained from scientific publications and by arduously sorting through natural history collections.

Fig. 2 – Assortment of cicada species. Plate 1 from the album Insectes (1927) | Eugène Séguy

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Fig. 3 – Assortment of cicada species. Plate 2 from the album Insectes (1927) | Eugène Séguy

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In his work, we can contemplate the insects as animals in their existence and accuracy; but they are simultaneously visual symbols, overlapping colorful decorative elements so fitting in fabrics, wallpaper, ceramics, book illustrations, posters and advertisements. Just like others before him, Séguy’s goal was to awaken interest in the natural designs of insects and in that process they resign from being animals and become mechanical parts, tasteful and intricately arranged.

Even though many wish this were the case with the cicadas that are about to cover the ground, I’m glad they are quite real and hopefully a good reminder that we’re not alone.

Written by Diana Marques

Diana is a 1) a scientific illustrator and animator; 2) researching technology, visual communication and museums in a Digital Media PhD; 3) a biologist; 4) and occasionally a couple things more. Find her on the Web, LinkedIn and Twitter.

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