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Urban Buzz: Cicadas!

Main Project Information
Goal Help gauge possible negative effects of urbanization on cicadas.
Task Collect and send us 5-10 dead cicadas in good condition.
Where anywhere

Periodical cicada (Magicicada spp.) populations are vulnerable to the ways we change the land around us. They live in the dirt. They suck on plant roots. They are born one year and then 17 years later rise to often find a landscape quite different from the one their parents experienced. When forests (and with them, tree roots) disappear completely, periodical cicadas never emerge at all, but in many cases forests do not disappear entirely, they just change. With urbanization, they become hotter, more polluted, and, more afflicted by herbivores other than the cicadas. What do these changes do to 17-year cicadas? We don’t really know.

One particular aspect of the cicadas that is likely influenced by urbanization is how crooked they are – that is, how much the length, width and shape of parts on the right and left side of the cicada body, respectively, differ from one another. Scientists have given a fancy name to these small, random deviations from perfect symmetry; they call it fluctuating asymmetry (FA).

Fluctuating asymmetry has been used as a low cost way to monitor the effects of environmental stressors like pesticides and water pollution on terrestrial and aquatic insects. We (at Your Wild Life) think it might be a quick-and-dirty way to gauge the negative effects of urbanization on periodical cicadas – We predict that cicadas experiencing more intense levels of urbanization (as measured by the amount of forest cover or concrete and blacktop in an area) will be more crooked.

And so we need your help!

How to Join

We are asking all of you living within the Brood III emergence zone (Iowa, Illinois & Missouri) to collect and send us 5-10 dead periodical cicadas in good condition. We want samples from forests, from cities, from suburbs, from farms – in other words, across a gradient from low to high urbanization.

With the help of high school students, undergrads and possibly some of you, we’ll then measure traits of the cicadas on the left and right sides of their bodies, traits like the presence and length of wing veins, leg segments and the number of ridges on the cicadas’ noise-making organs (called tymbals). We’ll then use these measurements to calculate fluctuating asymmetry and test our urbanization hypothesis.

We encourage you to collect samples from as many distinct geographic locations as possible.

Click here for specific collection and mailing instructions and our data form.

Happy cicada hunting!

Social Media
Required Gear

Just a small container for collecting cicadas

Ideal Age Group Elementary school (6 - 10 years), Middle school (11 - 13 years), High school (14 - 17 years), College, Graduate students, Adults, Families
Spend the Time outdoors
Type of Activity On a hike, On a walk, run, At school, At home
Media Mentions
and Publications
Tags cicada, magicicada, periodical cicada, students discover
Project Updated 05/17/2017