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Even COVID-19 can’t stop cicadas from coming to Montgomery County

Not even COVID-19 can stop the periodical cicadas that are coming to Montgomery County.

The 17-year Brood IX cicadas will begin emerging in southwest Virginia, including Blacksburg,  in mid-May. And now there is a way to track, photograph, video and help map these interesting insects on a mobile phone app created by cicada experts.

Gene Kritsky, Ph.D., Dean of Behavioral and Natural Sciences at Mount St. Joseph University in Cincinnati, who has studied cicadas throughout his academic career, 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. The University also maintains a cicada website showing where the cicadas will emerge this year. 

"Periodical cicadas are bugs of history," Dr. 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.

"We developed this app because so many people are fascinated by cicadas," he 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"

To join Cicada Safari, and help map the 2020 emergence, simply go to an app store and download the Cicada Safari app. 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.

A recognized cicada expert, Dr. Kritsky has given hundreds of media interviews, published academic papers on cicadas and is the author of two books on Cicadas, "Periodical Cicadas: The Plague and the Puzzle" and "In Your Backyard: Periodical Cicadas".

Following are some cicada facts from Dr. 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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