There’s a principle we should be proud of in Biology
That explains why we’re so brilliant... called neoteny,
Which says prolonged infancy and adolescence in any creature
Allows for more complexity in brain or body. It’s a feature
Of all things living, that they grow faster while not yet mature
So that 17 years of human adolescence means that you’re
Possessed of a bigger brain and better prepared to reason
Than some dumb beast who must mature in just one season
Prepared to fend off predators as an adult,
Though with a smaller brain... as a result.
But as our infancy and adolescence is 17 times longer,
It means we grow a brain that’s way way stronger.
But 17 years slowly maturing at home with mum and dad
Is a mere 20% of our life span. Now suppose we had
90% of life to spend in long infancy and slow adolescence.
If neoteny is such a blessing, wouldn’t that make good sense?
So consider the cicada who spends 17 years underground
In an adolescent larval stage, and only then is found
Above ground just one summer in full cicada maturation,
A 90% jolt of good neoteny... by my calculation.
Then why aren’t cicadas doing Einstein work, you say?
Is that a human prejudice you have? You may
Be thinking brains the only feature favored by neoteny
And smarts are all that count in bio-destiny.
WRONG! Might not the cicada... so long there underground...
Be working on some other specialty and so be found
Marvelous, unique, and far advanced in some other feature?
Are brains all you can think of, you egotistic creature?
Study the cicada a little further, and you’ll find
Neoteny has gifted her in quite another kind.
Though we build brain complexity above all other things,
In 17 years of larval stage, cicadas work on wings...
Not wings unique for flying, as you might suppose,
But wings like no other bug or beetle grows.
Cicada wings develop a special skill and purpose
By tiny, tiny nano-spikes grown on their surface,
Microscopic spears so keen and razor sharp,
That even bacteria landing there are torn apart.
If a summertime bacterium isn’t careful where he’s headed
And lands on a cicada, his membranes instantly get shredded.
These wings are the only bio-material known
That can kill bacteria at a touch. And that alone
Should make cicada neoteny.. the 90% kind...
Better than any brain advantage you can find.
I mean... what has big brain size done for me?
Nothing but anxiety and fret... that I can see.
The bad half of my brain makes each day a giant cock-up;
Then the other half exhausts itself in frantic daily mop-up.
Meanwhile, bacteria rain down upon me every hour!
And my surfaces have not one nano-spike... no power
To shred a single microbe, germ, or spore.
“Come in!” my surface says and opens every pore,
“Send us your flu, your plague, your meningitis!
The foul bacilli of your gingivitis,
The lyme and fever of your ticks and mites,
The staph and typhus of your parasites
The wretched refuse of hepatitis B.
Send these, your blood-born pathogens, to me.
I lift my lamp where no nano-spike will be.”
Oh, for cicada surfaces from head to toe!
How fearlessly we then might come and go,
And live perhaps forever, canker-free,
Thanks to the miracles of wing-neoteny.
Then who would give a fig for giant brains?
Not young, healthy, happy Dicks and Janes,
Gay or straight, single or wedded,
All their nasty microbes shredded.
Oh, if sweet neoteny had only made a
Man with surfaces like a cicada.
I’ve nothing nano.
Nada! Oh, to be a
Never sick cicada.