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Tuesday Trivia: Cicadas arriving across the region

From staff reports • May 26, 2020 at 12:00 PM

Cicadas just can’t wait to emerge in our region this spring, according to a report from an expert on the bugs. It says that although cicadas weren't expected this early in the season, periodical cicadas have been spotted in and around Kingsport, including in Southwest Virginia.

Mixed up

“Sometimes periodical cicadas get their timing mixed up and may emerge early or late,” said Gene Kritsky, dean of Behavioral and Natural Sciences at Mount St. Joseph University in Cincinnati, who has studied cicadas throughout his academic career.

“This is happening now in parts of Tennessee, Virginia, South Carolina, Georgia and North Carolina,” Kritsky said. “We are asking people to submit photographs to Cicada Safari of the undersides of these cicadas to enable us to determine to what brood they belong. These off-cycle cicadas provide clues to the relationships of the broods to each other.”

Kritsky worked in partnership with the Center for IT Engagement (cITe) at Mount St. Joseph University to create the Cicada Safari app. It allows users to search, photograph, video and help map the cicadas. And it will provide vital scientific research by identifying the brood of the emerging cicadas.

“Periodical cicadas are bugs of history,” Kritsky said. “They are generational events, and many people use the emergence to mark the passage of time, recall key events in their lives and just remember where they were and what they were doing the last time the cicadas came out.”

There’s an app for that

“We developed this app because so many people are fascinated by cicadas,” Kritsky said. “This is true citizen science. People can use their phones with our app to track, photograph and help us map the cicadas to verify where they are emerging. An issue with citizen science projects is the difficulty to verify new observations. The photographs submitted to our map are like voucher specimens permitting us to verify the observations making the maps more useful for future research.”

Join the effort

To join Cicada Safari and help map the 2020 emergence, simply go to an app store and download Cicada Safari. When a cicada is spotted, users can use the app to photograph and video the insects and then submit the pictures for inclusion on MSJ’s 2020 cicada map.

Kritsky has given hundreds of media interviews, published academic papers on cicadas and is the author of two books on the insects — “Periodical Cicadas: The Plague and the Puzzle” and “In Your Backyard: Periodical Cicadas.”

Fun facts

From Kritsky's cicada web page:

• Cicadas emerge after the soil temperature exceeds 64 degrees, which is usually in mid-May.

• Only male cicadas sing through sound-producing structures called tymbals on either side of the abdomen under the wings.

• Cicadas do not eat solid food, but do drink fluids to avoid dehydration.

• Cicadas do not sting or bite, and do not carry diseases.

• Periodical cicada years are quite beneficial to the ecology of the region. Their egg-laying in trees is a natural pruning that results in increased numbers of flowers and fruits in the succeeding years. Their emergence from the ground turns over large amounts of soil, and after they die their decaying bodies contribute a massive amount of nutrients to the soil.

• Periodical cicadas are often incorrectly called locusts. Locusts are grasshoppers and cicadas are more closely related to aphids than grasshoppers.

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