1    Mathematical Explanation

THE PRIME OF LIFE

If cicadas courted with verse, as any subtle suitor should, we might expect something like this from these patient insects:

Since we have world enough, and time,This coyness, Lady, is no crimeWe shall sit down and think which wayTo walk and pass our long love's day.1

It takes seventeen long years before cicadas hear “Time's wingèd chariot hurrying near” and so get down to the business of biology. Why the delayed gratification? According to some biologists and philosophers, the fact that seventeen is a prime number has much to do with it. In short, they say, mathematics explains this remarkable biological phenomenon. It is not the whole explanation; biological ingredients are needed, too. But facts ...

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