'Cicada Safari' App Lets Citizens Help Scientists Go Cicada Spotting

May 13, 2019
Originally published on May 2, 2019 11:07 am

Bug hunters and citizen scientists alike can now download a smartphone app to register cicada sightings. Cicada Safari from Mount Saint Joseph University will allow people to send pictures of cicadas, along with the time and location to Gene Kritsky. He's the dean of behavioral and natural sciences at Mount St. Joe and has been tracking cicadas for years.

"Some of my colleagues in other areas have been skeptical about citizen science because we don't have a way of verifying what people are looking at, but with Cicada Safari app we can do that," Kritsky says.

He plans to use it with the Brood VIII emergence in northeastern Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia this year.

The Cincinnati area isn't expecting a big periodical cicada appearance until 2021, but there could be some early arrivals this year. "We were doing some digging of cicada immatures recently and we found cicadas with red eyes - the nymphal stage. That doesn't usually happen until they're ready to emerge. So we expect a few cicadas to come out in the Greater Cincinnati area - not very many, probably fewer than a thousand," he says.

Kritsky says his mapping efforts, along with colleagues from the University of Connecticut, discovered a population of Brood I east of Knoxville, Tenn. "Here in Ohio and Northern Kentucky, we identified and verified a 13-year cicada based on citizen science. That's rather exciting. These cicadas have been around all the time, but no one really took the time to map it and look at the year to find out what they were."

Kritsky says, "There's a lot of things to still discover in our own backyards."

"We're going to be able to use this to map our annual cicadas. These are the green and black and brown and black cicadas that we see every year starting in July through October that make that sort of 'buzz-buzz-buzz' call that we hear every fall."

The app is a long way from when Kritsky first started using citizen science to map cicada appearances. "Back in 1987, my first Brood X emergence here in Cincinnati, we had an answering machine with a 90-minute tape on it. The day that Brood X first emerged, we broke the machine in the first three hours."

Kritsky says a few years ago, he started asking people to email cicada photos and information. That led to the creation of the app.

He says periodical cicadas are popular, because for kids, they seem huge, and for adults, "when they emerge in big numbers, people remember what happened 17 years earlier, it brings up family memories."

The Cicada Safari app is available through the iTunes and Google Play stores. The download is free, and Kritsky says it won't share any data or private information with anyone.

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