‘Almost impossible to ignore’: Special exhibition part of education effort ahead of periodical cicada emergence

  Entrance to a special exhibition at the Dunn Museum in Libertyville to mark the pending emergence of 17-year periodical cicadas. Mick Zawislak/
  Steve Furnett, exhibitions and collections manager at the Dunn Museum in Libertyville, adjusts the sound as part of the final preparations for the special "Celebrating Cicadas" exhibition. Mick Zawislak/

You may have heard that billions of periodical cicadas are about to emerge from the ground, make their way into trees, mate and produce nymphs that will do the same 17 years from now.

You may also have learned they are incredibly loud, have alarming red eyes and may look sinister but don’t bite, sting or otherwise pose a threat to man or beast.

Invaders from underground are coming in cicada-geddon. It’s the biggest bug emergence in centuries

Their pending arrival will be filled with interest, wonder, questions and misconceptions.

A convergence of emergence

“It’s a rare natural phenomenon that will captivate many people’s attention and be almost impossible to ignore,” said Brett Peto, environmental communications specialist with the Lake County Forest Preserve District.

As a guide to the pending event, “Celebrating Cicadas” opens Saturday at the Dunn Museum operated by the district at its headquarters, 1899 W. Winchester Road, Libertyville.

Though a first for the district, the special exhibition is the culmination of years of planning and a continuation of an educational initiative launched with the last emergence in 2007.

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About four years ago, forest preserve educators, land planners, communications staff, tech mapping experts and others began thinking through how to address the pending arrival of Brood XIII (13) in late May and early June.

“We’re trying to give as many opportunities as we can for people to learn,” said Alyssa Firkus, director of education. “It’s something a lot of people don’t focus on or are scared of — we’d like to turn that feeling around. It’s such a phenomenon.”

A cicada exhibit at the Lake County Forest Preserve’s Dunn Museum in Libertyville runs through Aug. 4.

“Celebrating Cicadas” runs through Aug. 4. Interactive displays, informational text exhibits, illustrations, photos, three-dimensional models, videos and other elements are meant to immerse visitors in all things cicada and provide context to what will be happening when the upper eight inches of soil reaches 64 degrees.

An interactive coloring station for kids based on the drawings of scientific illustrator Samantha Gallagher, a map to track the emergence in Lake County, information on cicada life cycles, their role in local habitats, cultural significance and why there are so many, for example, is part of the experience.

The Lake County Forest Preserve District seized on the 2007 emergence as an educational opportunity. Andy Kimmel, since retired, was the deputy executive director and in charge of education and public affairs at the time.

“Since the forest preserve is countywide and is the natural resource experts for Lake County we just thought it was our role to make sure people know what cicadas are all about, that it’s a real fun and interesting event,” he said.

This year, offerings have expanded to allow a curious public to learn about, track and experience a wondrous window in time, with an emphasis on getting the public’s help in tracking the emergence.

“We really wanted to remain the go-to organization,” Firkus explained.

Besides the exhibition, the district has been offering adult outreach and in-school cicada programming but are completely full.

“We have no capacity to take on any bookings,” Firkus said.

However, expert observations will be available online May 16 and 20. A family search will be held the night of June 8 and CicadaFest is scheduled for June 9 at Ryerson Conservation Area in Riverwoods.

An adult cicada is seen on May 6, 2021. Associated Press file
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