Following a 17-year residency underground, billions (yes billions, not a typo) of cicadas soon are due to emerge throughout the Greater Cincinnati, Northern Kentucky and Southern Indiana regions, and local scientists are asking the public to help track them with a brand new app.
The class of periodical cicadas, “Brood X,” will begin emerging in early May to partake in what Gene Kritsky, Ph.D. calls a “generational event” for many residents in the area.
"For people who have been around awhile, they will remember what it was like 17 years ago or even farther back to when they were kids and they'll know what to expect," Kritsky, the dean of Behavioral and Natural Sciences at Mount St. Joseph University, says in a news release. "For those who weren't alive 17 years ago or who were too young at the time and can't remember, they are in for quite an experience."
Cicadas in Brood X will emerge throughout 15 U.S. states, including in nearby metropolitan areas such as Indianapolis, Louisville, Lexington, Columbus and Dayton.
Kritsky, a recognized expert in the cicada field study and published author on the subject, has developed an interactive way for cicadas to remain on scientists’ radar while also encouraging engagement from local citizens.
Kritsky created the Cicada Safari app in partnership with the Center for IT Engagement at Mount St. Joseph University.
The app allows users to search, photograph, video and map cicadas in their local area. Once the user submits their findings, scientists will then verify the cicada by studying their photograph or video. Following verification, the cicada will be included in Mount St. Joseph University’s cicada map.
Kritsky claims this information will move scientific research forward by determining the cicada distribution and population status across the region.
“As strange as it may sound, periodical cicada broods can go extinct,” Kritsky says.
An example, Kritsky says, is the cicadas from Brood XI, which emerged in enormous numbers for centuries prior to becoming extinct in 1954.
Periodical cicadas are important to a region’s ecology, says Kritsky. The insect lays eggs in trees, which is a “natural pruning” that increases the amount of flowers and fruits in the following years. After their deaths, the cicadas’ bodies will decay and contribute a substantial amount of nutrients to the soil.
In addition to this tracking system being a vital tool of scientific research, the app is also an engaging way for members of the community to spend time outside during the warm summer months.
"We developed this app because so many people are fascinated by cicadas," Kritsky says. "This is true citizen science.”
Locals who want to join the safari trip can download the free app from the Apple app store or Google play. Folks also can learn more about cicadas through fact sheets, maps and activities by visiting CicadaSafari.org.