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The Surprisingly Fascinating Life Of Periodical Cicadas ft Dr. Gene Kritsky

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Show Notes

Periodical Cicadas are this week’s Backyard Bounty podcast topic as we join Nicole as she talks with Gene Kritsky

What You’ll Learn

  • What are the different types of Cicada?
  • What is the life cycle of a periodical cicada?
  • What role cicadas play in the environment
  • Where and when do cicadas emerge.
  • How you can help map the 2021 emergence of the periodical cicada Brood X. 

Our Guest

Gene Kritsky, PhD is Professor of Biology and Dean of Behavioral and Natural Sciences at Mount St. Joseph University in Cincinnati. He is a Fellow of the Entomological Society of America and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. He received his BA in Biology from Indiana University in 1974, and his MS and PhD in Entomology from the University of Illinois in 1976 and 1977 respectively.

Gene Kritsky, a native of North Dakota, grew up with an interest in natural history.  As a kid, he collected fossils in Montana and the Dakotas, and insects in Florida.  As a teenager he was enthralled by egyptology and greatly influenced by the writings of Charles Darwin.

He has published over 250 papers and 10 books, including two on periodical cicadas. His cicada research has attracted national attention with appearances on the ABC Evening News, CBS Evening News, the Today Show, CBS Sunday Morning, and CNN Science News.

His work has also been featured in U.S. News and World Report, USA Today, Parade, People, Discover, Scientific American, The New York Times, Washington Post, Science News, The Scientist, and many international publications.

Gene lives with his wife, the artist Jessee Smith, in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Brood X book cover with picture of periodical cicada on a blade of grass

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Announcer: 0:01

Welcome to the Backyard Bounty podcast from, where each week you'll be hearing inspiring stories and educational interviews with extra guests to help your hobby farm thrive. And now, here's your host, Nicole.

Nicole 0:16

Hello, everyone, and thank you so much for joining me for another episode of Backyard Bounty. I'm your host Nicole, and today I'm joined by Gene Kritsky, who is a PhD Entomologist working with periodical cicadas for over 45 years and today we are going to talk about cicadas. So Gene, thank you so much for joining me today.

Gene 0:37

Oh, it's pleasure to be here.

Nicole 0:38

So cicadas are kind of a hot topic right now. I think a lot of people are worried about this huge influx that we are supposedly getting ready to have. So I would really love to talk to you about your history with cicadas and you know, kind of figure out what might be in store for us this year.

Gene 0:59

When you say my history, I assume you want how I got into the cicadas as a group? Well, it's it's a pretty serendipitous story. I was an undergraduate at Indiana University. My plan was to major in Paleoanthropology. I was really interested in human evolution. And I asked the Professor Paul Jamison, who I still am in contact with periodically, how do we have two skulls? How do we know they're not that they're not the same? Our male and female, the others he talked about morphometrics, and all these measurments, the things that he said, "You want to take an Entomology class because that's where the doing a lot of that." I filed it away, never thought about it again until went to register for classes. And I was a sophomore. And the way they do at that time, this is way before the internet days, we had to go into this giant fieldhouse to collect computer cards and put them in a certain order, in the cards, or your schedule wouldn't work. And it turns out it was also done by lottery, the sophomores of the last of all the classes and within the sophomores the "K"s are the last of all the sophomores, I was the last of the last to register. And I walked up to the desk, the Zoology table, and I said to the woman, I remember this because it's one of these things that's a life changing experience. I said, "I need five hours. Do you have anything open? And she goes, 'I'm sorry, all I have is Entomology in the lab.'" And I thought, well, Paul told me to take it an Entomology. Let's... why not? Two weeks into the class. I knew I was gonna be an Entomologist. Frank Young was the professor. And I had never met a man like this. He was in his probably mid 50s. And he loved going into the office every day. You could tell this he just thoroughly enjoyed his job. And my dad was an insurance he worked in crop hail insurance, and he loved his what he did, but you know, insurance. Life Insurance is like making a bet with this company. I'm betting I'm gonna die this year. And they're saying "No, you're not." And so it was a great career for because it was able to put a roof over our heads and forget education. But I've never met a bed that was so enthusiastic about this. And Frank was the Entomologist who was hired to replace Alfred C. Kinsey, as the Entomologist. Alfred C. Kinsey was a Gall wasp specialist, who eventually got caught up in, got really interested in sex, and started the Kinsey Sex Institute.

Nicole 3:03

Oh... well that's a different transition!

Gene 3:06

There you go. And so Frank and his wife and kids, he and his wife used to play cards together, they were in faculty meetings together. And but Frank had this wonderful infectious sense of humor. And so here we are the second week of that class, this is in the fall of 1972. I'm dating myself, but that's okay. And he starts talking about cicadas. And uh, whoa, this is really cool. And I've always been interested in history. And by this time, I was reading things on ancient history on purely Egyptology and, and as well as things in science and evolution. And I realized, let's see, though he was talking about that the tools of history could be used to study periodical cicadas in science with the scientific method, good observation, hypothesis, experiment theory that that that that step process, but in in history, like journalism, it's a different process. you're evaluating sources, there's primary sources, right from the right from the horse's mouth, or in their own handwriting, secondary sources, tertiary sources, you're evaluating the credibility of these individuals. And I felt I bet I could apply historical research methods to get more information on cicadas. And so when I finished it in Indiana, I went to Illinois for a PhD where I worked with Louis Standard. And I should point out Frank Young was the periodical cicadas specialist for the state of Indiana at the time, he was mapping them out for every brood publishing on them regularly. And then I went to Illinois where he worked with Lou Standard, Jr, who was a thrips specialists but also was their periodical cicada specialist, wrote "The Periodicals Cicadas of Illinois". And while I was in Illinois, that wonderful library, the University of Illinois has, I started taking time once a while to get more cicada records. And by the time I finished my PhD I had just under 7000 records. And that was a started all this. And then I discovered right up to the Macintosh just came out in the late 80s, there was this computer program which would be used by land developers to look at demographic maps. about where to put golf courses. And it had a great mapping function, which I adapted to use it by cicadas. And now I had a process where I could take all this data. And I can see all the compiled data for all the routes that emerges. Or I could do emergence from 1800, 1817, 1834, excuse me, and go on and going on. And so it's like, now I'm watching these broods change before my eyes as I'm playing with this computer. And that's probably a little longer introduction than you wanted but it's how I got into cicadas.

Nicole 5:30

So when you first heard about the cicadas, what was it about them that you found so fascinating?

Gene 5:35

Well, it was the link to history, you know, the first mention of cicadas in the Western world historical records, they were known by the indigenous populations for centuries before that, but that was in 1634, when the second governor of Plymouth Colony wrote a little blurb in the history of the colony about these insects astray of bigness to flies, or bumblebees that came out of holes in the ground and made such a constant yelling sound as the deaf, the hearers and all this and that was kind of cool.

Nicole 6:00


Gene 6:00

You know, you're this is several centuries ago, that was the first time Westerners had encountered periodical cicadas. And that just resonated with me. And then you read the first time that Brood 10 was reported and that was the 1715 in Philadelphia. And that's all you know, the language is rich, and it's they have a vernacular that's very different from ours. It's like a time capsule and, and it's all tied into bugs. You can't beat that. Interesting writing. It's interesting history and there are bugs involved. And so what what's not to like?

Nicole 6:31

Absolutely. So as a lay person, you're keep referring to them as periodical cicadas. What does the term periodical refer to?

Gene 6:41

The term periodic called separates them from the annual cicadas. One of the questions I get asked all the time is, we have cicadas every year, what's the big deal?

Nicole 6:49


Gene 6:50

And that is true here in Ohio. We have 20 species and subspecies total of cicadas, we have six species of periodical cicadas, there are two life cycles, 17 and 13 years, so we've got one 13 year brood, and a few ,and several 17 year broods. But then we also have the annual cicadas, annual cicadas come out, usually in early July. Here in Ohio, they come out in very small numbers. So when you hear him going up the tree you see by walking through the tree, and you're looking after seeing them because their coloration is green, black, brown, they've got green or black eyes. And it's you can see because they're they're colored like camouflage. They're up in the trees. They're backlit because you're looking up into the sky. As I said, they come out in very small numbers, and they're with us until early October. On the other hand, the periodical cicadas come out in May and June. They've got red eyes, black bodies, and they have a totally different call. But unlike the annual cicadas, they come out in massive numbers by the hundreds of thousands in a neighborhood to millions in cities and billions to kind of statewide. So that's a very distinct difference. And I work primarily, actually, I work exclusively on periodical cicadas, I don't work on the annual cicadas. And that's why I make that kind of distinction.

Nicole 8:03

Okay. In that was actually one of my questions as well here in southern Colorado, we have some cicadas and they're always the sign of summer for me, I love their little buzzing. And I'm always excited when we are them.

Gene 8:15

And that's kind of the you talk about southern Colorado, the petroglyph for the flute player, Mahou is a cicada.

Nicole 8:22

Oh, really.

Gene 8:23

So they're even part of our rich cultural mythologies and stories. And so it's an interesting group, the whole group, cicadas, my research, I publish only on the periodical cicadas or their cultural impact.

Nicole 8:33

So these periodical cicadas, you mentioned a 13 in a 17 year cycle. How does that cycle work? And where do they go, you know, during that period of absence?

Gene 8:44

Let's take what's happening what's going to happen here in the US that started happening in a few places in late April, but usually it's early May, the cicada they have the last stage the fifth nymphal stage of these insects emerge from holes in the ground from tunnels in the ground when the soil reaches a temperature of 64 degrees Fahrenheit. And usually right after a soaking rain, that's where the real numbers start to come out. And these insects crawl out of these holes, they find a vertical surface they walk up this vertical surface those services could be tree trunks fences, I see them do this on tires, on blades of grass on weeds, whatever. They climb up this vertical service, lock their legs, their tarsal claws all their legs into that service to get a good purchase of that substrate. And then all of a sudden, the back of that nymphal skin splits. And that split extends all the way to the head capsule and the adult insect insights as wriggling out and it's all this is wonderful, creamy white, with red eyes, and two black patches by the head shrivel up little wings. It actually pulls out, is hanging nearly upside down will only be held in place but just the the tension of that opening of the split and the back of the last dimpled skin or the last juvenile stage. They hang like that for like 20 minutes or so while their claws get hard enough that they can work with them, they do a sit up, they grab a hold of the head of the thing and they pull their abdomen out. And now they're, they're free, but their wings are all shriveled up. So they got to start pumping fluid through their wings, the wings expand. And then they look like a typical cicada except they're still white and color. They haven't completed the tanning and the scleratization, tanning is coloring and scleratization is the hardening, if you will, they occur at the same time. And so then they start turning black in color for the body, they keep the red eyes and the legs turn orange, and the wing veins turn orange. And eventually you have what we see this this I think rather beautiful striking insect that is sort of "Hey", they're now looking like a typical cicada. But it's not yet ready to do its thing. So it climbs up to the top of a tree and waits five more days to complete the hardening and maturation process. And all that occur to the first day they're out. That whole shedding of the skin and turning dark takes about two and a half to three hours depending on temperature. Five days later, you'll start hearing isolated males calling the end of those calls six days later, even more seven, eight days to see your sustaining chorusing. By a week or so you'll see the trees will be screaming with these things. And that's a what all these males gather in the trees as in ecological we'd call it a lek, "L-E-K". But we tend to call it a chorusing center where the males are all seeing and females are attracted they fly in. And when they're close to each other. The male call for the large pieces septum desam. I'll see if I get my whistler to work but it calls like at the right the tail end with that when the pitch drops, the female who doesn't have a sound making structure, she'll flick her wings so (whistles).

Nicole 11:33


Gene 11:35

If the male hears that, he turns and faces her, he sings again, she flicks her waist, they will get close, they'll shift into a second call it sounds like that and eventually he'll start tapping on the edge of this four leg and mating in the sews. And that can take several hours after that's completed. The female starts laying her eggs in the knot that sorry that incident but within the next couple days, lay her eggs in the new growth the terminal ends of brand tree branches. Then she'll lay her 500 eggs, well, these little quarter inch egg nests 10 to 20 eggs each test until she runs out of her eggs or runs out of branches first as she flies to a new branch. And then she continues laying and so she runs out of eggs and on average she has just over 500 eggs. And then both the male people die. And then six to 10 weeks later the eggs hatch. The nymphs the new little immature cicadas and they're really cute when they're small. They they reel their way out of this egg nest and then just plummet to there. They don't crawl out they've dropped. And I think that's a defensive strategy is all distinctive, of course, because they're extremely vulnerable to answers spiders and beetles. As soon as they hit the ground, they they hightail it to the dirt down, run down a blade of grass or whatever, and get underneath that soil as fast as possible. I've watched this happen. It's almost like well, they're gone. It's quite amazing. They feed out grassroots for the next few weeks. And then on New Year's Day, they are between eight and 12 inches below the surface sucking on a tree root. And that's where they'll be for the next 17 years. While under there, they'll shed their skin four times they'll make poor tunnels they'll tunnel around, they'll turn over so the soil, but they keep finding a root to suck on. And they feed on the xylem tissue, which is that tissue that brings water and minerals up to the canopy. And that's their life.

Nicole 13:30

So what do they typically cause harm to the tree?

Gene 13:34

Not at that stage. In fact, I'm looking out the windows of my library here at the the house that I've got several trees I'm looking at. And my wife and I are very fond of cicadas, you know. They got me tenure. So you've got to be fond to these animals. And when Pori bought the house, I actually went look for egg nest to make sure I had cicadas here.

Nicole 13:55

Oh, that's great.

Gene 13:56

But to answer your question, you can't tell by looking at the trees if they have cicadas or if they're threatened or not. I mean, they'd be harmful than they hurt the trees because the trees how they're eating and subsisting. So there's enough out there to feed but they're feeding the water without taking they're not sucking all the water or breaking the water column. So you really can't see a trees and look and see what's going on here. Unlike the emerald ash borer, which is killing the trees in southwest Ohio, we're gonna lose a couple, you know, hundreds of 1000s to probably even billions of trees over the state over the course of the next decade.

Nicole 14:26

So then what purpose do the cicadas serve and in the grand scheme of things in the ecosystem?

Gene 14:32

Well, they're uniquely adapted to life in the eastern deciduous forest. And if we went out and could wipe out all the periodical cicadas, the trees would still be here, we'd still we wouldn't notice the difference, but what they do when they come out, and during their 17 years, it contributed a lot to the ecosystem of these are deciduous forests, for example, while they're underground for those 17 years, they're tunneling around, they're turning over soil that out there and some studies have suggested it's not as great as what the earthworms can do, but it's not insignificant. When they emerge from holes in the ground that when they come out and they emerge in their 17th year, those holes persist, and it's like a natural aeration of the soil. And here in the Midwest, we've been having the summers where we'll have weeks on end without rain, the clay in the soil gets really hard. And so when you have a rain, throbbing, big downpour, and so it all runs off the surface, except where the cicada holes are, some of that goes down in waters, the trees where the adults come out in big numbers. They are an opportunistic food pulse for all sorts of animals, dogs, cats, raccoons, rodents, even squirrels eat them. And birds... the birds are crazy about these things. So that food pulse means that those animals that are consuming this extra food, their offspring are surviving in greater numbers, which is beneficial to those populations that might have been declined for whatever reason in the past, but even let's say increase while increasing the Rhoden population that helps the owls and the other raptors. So it helps the foodweb of deciduous forest. When the females lay their eggs in the trees. Sometimes the vascular tissue in those in the ends of the branches gets torn apart, and the leaves turn brown and wither. Sometimes the branch even breaks where the eggs are laid and sort of dangles here, and we call that flagging of it looks terrible. It's like the trees have been hit by bad hailstorm. But a paper published in 1869. I love this point, the title, the title i was "Out of Evil, Comes Good." This paper talked about how farmers or orchardists in Illinois and Missouri we're saying "We are having a bumper crop this year" and they were quite perplexed by it. And it turned out the year before brood tended emerged and all that oviposition was like a natural pruning and it resulted in a heavier flower set the next year.

Nicole 16:47


Gene 16:48

And so that showed that it's not all detrimental, they can kill a very young trees at that stage. If you plant let's say a new tree that you had is the old four feet. Barely the thickness of a pencil, if they should find that inviting enough to lay their eggs and they can kill a small tree like that the up to about three to four, five feet, maybe at most. But the mature trees they can tolerate that. That pruning from the flagging, oh, we're not done yet. We have after they do all this, they die the the adults die they called their carcasses collected the base of trees adds a little bit of summer rain or some morning dew and 90 degree temperatures you have in the Midwest, and they rot, then boy do they smell. But in that in that decay, those nutrients go down those holes, and there's a nutrient cache that forms around the trees, which is beneficial for the trees that's beneficial for the cicadas. So they may not be a species like the beaver for example, they can change whole the whole area by blocking off a stream and making a wetland or what have you. cicadas when they do come out do have a lot of benefits. For example, as I mentioned, the emerald ash borer is causing a large kill off on our ash trees. As you drive along the interstates here you can see all the dead ash trees as green these open pockets. Well, this year, because of the the cicadas egg lay, they allow for more Maple fruits, little little winged fruits to form and be distributed and that they helped fill in those spaces, indeed we found a number size of out that in Ohio, we're seeing more maples coming into these open spaces. And so this will help that by having more people fruit out there.

Nicole 18:24

I always like learning how, you know creatures that we might find inconvenient or, or otherwise, how they fit into the grand scheme of things. I think it kind of helps. Maybe accept them, maybe not appreciate them, but accept their their presence.

Gene 18:41

I agree. I know. I always say that. Yeah, what good do they do? It's like a deal. Does everybody else? What are they? What are they doing? Well, of course, what their whole purpose is they're just trying to reproduce and keep the next generation going. Right? It's those activities that intersect with other species that create the food webs that create the the nutrient cycles that we have the water cycle, calcium cycles, all those are part of all this whole thing. And that's how the cicadas contribute.

Nicole 19:09

So not having experienced this personally, it sounds like it could be quite disruptive for some folks. Is there any way to kind of either manage them or you know, some suggestions on ways to coincide with them as best as possible?

Gene 19:28

First of all, you need to come out the East this year or you come out three years from now and we have Brood 13 at Illinois emerging along with Brood 19. You've got to plan for that.

Nicole 19:37

I'm actually going to be in Illinois in about a month and a half.

Gene 19:41

Okay. What part of Illinois?

Nicole 19:45

It's just outside of Indianapolis, towards Missouri. I'm going to be in Illinois. I'm going through Indianapolis.

Gene 19:52


Nicole 19:53

Terre Haute I believe is how they say it?

Gene 19:54

Terre Haute, Terre Haute then they're going to be...Okay, you need to get Cicada Safari. Because when you do that they're very likely will be cicadas right if you cross the Indiana into the Illinois border that's that's where they occur brood there's a little bit of remnant of Brood 10 in Illinois. And so Clark County, Douglas County, those are some very rich emergent zones that that are there and with Cicada Safari, you can go right down and look at and see exactly what street they're on. So you know, searching these but to answer your question about what do you, how do people prepare, some people are freaking out. So I've had calls, I've had calls from people saying, "We're gonna go on vacation, we want to go to Washington, DC, when will the cicadas be done?" I was, well, they'll be done at the end of June. But I should point out to you that they'll also be in Washington DC. I changed their entire vacation plans in one sentence. But what for people who are freaking out what I what I've been encouraging you to do is to get my app Cicada Safari and go on your own Cicada Safari looking for periodical cicadas is to go outside at night when they're emerging. And watch that transformation. It's like having a David Attenborough movie in your backyard live it's just it happens so slowly. So you if you believe you're gonna miss it, this takes 90 minutes for them to crawl out of the ground and then to go through that process, but they're all white, but they look like a regular cicada. And if you've got kids bring them out with you and watch this and you know, it's dark because it's at night you got a flashlight, your your all your peripheral vision has got it's focused on what you're looking at. And that's the kind of thing that can instill the an interest in natural history and science and kids and who knows, you might have a future doctor in the family.

Nicole 21:30

Absolutely. So during your research, what is some of the most fascinating or interesting things that you've learned or discovered along the way?

Gene 21:40

In a broad sense it's how much more there is to find and to learn about periodical cicadas. One example that I'm most proud of about work on these was the discovery of a previously unrecognized brood of 13 year cicadas in Ohio, Northern Kentucky. Now that population of brood 22 has been here for a couple centuries was even longer, but no one recognized that they were 13 years cicadas and that was because they came out simultaneously with other breeds are close to it. So we thought they were they came out in 1923 that was the same year brood 14 came out and a 13 year form coming out with the 17 year form that happens every 221 years for those two same broods. And so then 13 years later, in 1936, it came out the same with brood 10 and say all that all these organs for brood 10 did thing in the oven. Nobody was looking in 1953. So we don't have records for there. But they came out and again in 70 and then that's when we started to... again, 1970 there was nobody that nobody was actually mapping thoroughly here in southwest Ohio. So that just was missed. And in my case, I've had the good luck to the Gget to know well, the major cicada researchers of the mid 20th century people like I mentioned Frank Young and Lou Standard, but Monte Lloyd, Monte Lloyd is one of the great cicada researchers of his time. His colleague, Henry Divus, at the Field Museum idolized at the University of Chicago, generally just nice people and wonderful people. Well, I was actually giving a lecture at a Memorial Symposium in honor of Monte Lloyd after he had passed, and the next morning, got an email from someone in Falwell Kentucky saying, "We've got periodical cicadas here." And they shouldn't have had any periodical cicadas. So this is before cell phones, before digital cameras. So I drove back and drove down to Falwell, Kentucky and they had periodical cicadas, no question about it. And they were singing, they were massive. It was this what this is so strange. And I tried to make sense what I was seeing. And then I remembered that in 1988, a year after brood 10, we had a lot of cicadas emerge. And it's common to have cicadas a year, early, early a year late. So that didn't make what did bother me. And in 1975, Monte Lloyd the man who was giving the lecture is there at his symposium published a paper in the "Journal of Evolution". Periodical cicadas coming out after 18 years, it was all about what happened in 1975 coming out this population coming out after brood 14 emerges 74 and I'm sorry, I'm starting to do the math now. 74,88 Okay, 13 years, or 75 to 88, 13 years, 88 to 2001, 13 years. And that's not enough to drive it, drive it home. Do I want to find evidence of more in those locations at that time? So I decided also to drive to my study sites that I set up for what happened what I observed here in Cincinnati with all these cicadas coming out to you after brood 10 in 1998. And the cicadas were there and then I started thinking, "Oh", so I started looking for evidence of, of their emergence in 1962. And I found it it was in the building of the Melda Lock and Dam on the Ohio River where they had to stop the one of the people there that was involved said there were two days in 1962 that we had to shut down construction to get all the locusts off. And then I went back and checked, were they there in 1936? Yes. Were they there in 23? Yes. And then I so therefore we have a 13 year brood in southwest Ohio and Northern Kentucky. And I published it in my book, "Periodical Cicadas" is the brood the plague in the puzzle published by the Indian Academy of Sciences. And some of my colleagues didn't believe me that they weren't being mean, they're, they're good scientists, because this is just doesn't make any sense. Brood 22 was no doubt of the Louisiana and Mississippi not in the Ohio River Valley. And so we felt "Well, there's one way to show you this is wait 13 years. And we did. And in 2014, they came out with a vengeance in large numbers. And so we were able to verify to everybody's satisfaction that we indeed had a 13 year brood here in southwest Ohio and Northern Kentucky. And I'm very proud of that. Because you have to start every day you get to discover a whole new population of periodical cicadas.

Nicole 25:58

Absolutely. Yeah, that's very significant, to discover something like that in your field. That's great.

Gene 26:04

The second thing that I'm extremely proud of happened as as sort of a weird coincidence that led to a whole series of dominoes in 1991, teaching ecology first week of classes, and I was also department chair, and I realized I had lab that afternoon, I had not planned a thing. And so it's the first week of class. So what do you always do with the first week glass scientific method? So I gave a what a Monte loise paper a paper he wrote with his wife, Joanne White, who also cicada specialists at the time. And it talked about the difference between 13 and 17 years cases and how they grow underground. And I had the students read the paper, and I said, Okay, if we were to dig up cicadas today, what stage girls should they be in? And I had a writer on a piece of paper, and they put those in envelopes. They signed the seal after they sealed it up. And we went to the grounds crew, we got shovels, walked out to the university orchard to dig up cicadas, and they were bigger than they should have been. They'd bolted once more when they shot. The paper said that if a 17 year cicada Moulton extra time in the first five years, they'll come out four years early. So we're in 1991. And I'm saying well, your predictions are wrong. But this paper is right. They'll come out not in nine years in the year 2000. That's good. It's not since I tell you people are gonna get cancer, they smoke, you know, it's too far away. But every year from that I was digging up cicadas monitor their growth. In 1989. At the annual meeting of the ecological Society of America, I presented a poster paper predicting that we're going to have an early emergence of periodical cicadas in the year 2000. And they came out the first time anybody ever predicted an off cycle...


...Emergence. And they came out in big numbers in some places. A woman called my "Cicada hotline". You know, this is the answering machine days at her I just she heard, "Why are all the cicadas in my backyard?" And so I took a couple of my students who could do this, just to see what's going on there. And they were the place was packed with cicadas and they were screaming this that was this never happened. Usually when you have an off cycle emergence, everything gets eaten by the predators, that this time they're seeing. They were mating. They were lay eggs. That was the first time that we documented essentially a self reproducing off cycle emergence. That was rather exciting. And I described that that those initial works in my book I mentioned a few minutes ago. And then the question is, will they stay 13 years, or they shift back to 17 years? That requires us to wait another 13 years.

Nicole 28:30

I can't imagine.

Gene 28:32

You've got to be patient to work on cicadas. If I worked on fruit flies, I'd have this done in three months. But no, but so we wait, and the went out to the study sites in 2013, and cicadas were coming out by the 10s and hundreds one evening, but not big enough to satiate and overwhelm the predators, which is part of the cicadas life strategy, they basically have so many cicadas out there that the predators can eat all they want. And there's still millions left. This case ate all they want, they ate them all. And not a single skater was hurt at the sites. I couldn't find a single adult, I collected hundreds of skins. And so that was just so we have wait four more years, what's gonna happen 2017. And they came out in incredible numbers of 2017, I think also joined by more brutan accelerated cicadas. And the result was that year I verified 33 locations in southwest Ohio, where they saying they made it they laid eggs, those eggs hatched. And so we have now actually witness before our eyes, the origin of a new population of cicadas that will emerge during brood six years. And that's rather exciting. And for those things to happen like that. What I need is sophisticated equipment. No, I just needed to have patience and the observations and that's what makes it sort of cool. You can make significant discoveries by what is it I know I probably get the quote wrong but as Yogi Berra said, "You can you can see a lot by just observing." And that's basically it. You just you monitor what's going on you get you, you have what's happening here. And you come back and check in 13 or 17 years. And that's those two things are probably some of the major contributions I made to the study of cicadas.

Nicole 30:12

Well, that's definitely really exciting. And obviously something to be quite proud of. Your Cicada Safari app, does that help you with your research as well?

Gene 30:21

Oh, that is, that's I'm hoping to be is going to be extremely important. In fact, I'm very pleased at all of my colleagues that I've worked with through the years, I've known Chris Simon, University of Connecticut, John Cool, University of Connecticut, Mike Rappe, University of Maryland. We've all been working on cicadas, there's not that many of us and we get together but broods come out, we usually end up in the same place. So we have a chance to have have a fine libation of some kind and talk cicadas. They've all endorsed and embraced Cicada Safari to help us mapping the Ohio biological survey, the Indiana Academy of Sciences are also promoting this as as is my College, the University of Tennessee, the University of Kentucky, the North Carolina Museum of Natural History working with their naturalist. And so we originally developed this as a way of mapping out periodicals cases we tested we tested it twice. Now with brood 8 and brood 9. And, case in point brood 8, which is a small brood, we had 5,721 observations that we verified, wow, that was pretty nice. Last year, and when brood nine came out, we had just under 8000 observation photos submitted. But what was exciting was not only did we get brood nine, we got evidence of four other breeds emerging off cycle.

Nicole 31:32

Oh, wow.

Gene 31:32

And that's really wild. You know, we when was the case came out, we would all gather where we expected them to be. We never thought about looking 500 miles east. There they were. And so we found out all sorts of we had 13 years case coming out after nine years we had 17 years case coming out after 13 years, we had brood 10 coming out a year early, we had brood five, coming out four years late, it was just... why I was just amazing. The other thing we've done now the Cicada Safari In addition, taking photographs, our scouts, as we call them can submit 10 second videos, and the videos have audio, and we can identify which species are screaming as the part of the mating process in those locations. And so the app is really easy. Basically, firstly, the app is free. The price is right. We don't trace what you do, don't trace what you're buying on Amazon, nor do we care what you look for in Google, we're not looking at any of that. What we want you to do is after you get the app, and you're in an area where this case may be but even if you're not go out look because we're getting reports now from places where we didn't expect them. You're all ready this year. And so, go out, take a picture because if it's now when you see him just coming out photograph that when the trees are screaming, send me a video of just a screaming tree with the cause of the background and the videos. Once approved by our team of para-taxonomists, people trained identify periodical cicadas, we have the date, the time, longitude and latitude. And once approved, they go on a live map. So if you have Cicada Safari, right now, you can open up the map that's on the on the app and zoom in on an area. And if you zoom, keep zooming, you'll actually see the photographs that were approved for that area. And I'm tickled to tell you that as of today, we have 87,000 downloads of Cicada Safari.

Nicole 33:12


Gene 33:13

And it's growing, we're adding 3000 people a day are downloading the app. So it's really exciting. And we could get one of the most detailed maps of brood 10 that we've ever had.

Nicole 33:24

Well, that would definitely be exciting. And it sounds like it would be really beneficial to your research as well.

Gene 33:29

Oh, it's definitely one of the things that is kind of crazy, is that back in the 1890s, and again, in 1919, the USDA has suggested that brood 10 was going to go go into decline due to deforestation for agriculture, urbanization, and Frank Young was very interested in that topic. And so he verified by 1958 that some parts of Indiana were showing decline in their brood, 10 populations. He and I worked together in 87. And together, we mapped up route 10. I've attended Ohio, and we found evidence that that decline was indeed happening, the northern half of Indiana has cicadas in very patchy distributions of the counties, not like they used to have throughout the whole county. And so with our help from all of our colleagues that have downloaded the Cicada Safari, we can get a really good view only for how dense are these. It's got it and so we're quite excited to see what we're gonna find out.

Nicole 34:22

Yeah, well, hopefully, we're able to get a lot of really great data from that app. And I know that you also have a book. I apologize I don't have the full title but the "Brood 10" book,

Gene 34:33

Right. It's called "Periodical Cicadas, the Brood 10 edition". It's published by the Ohio Biological Survey and it's valid is to tell you a nice little introduction to periodical cicadas, all the broods and the unique things about brood 10. It also includes a chapter on the history of all 18 prior emergencies of brood 10 going back to 1750. You know, some of the stories there., for example, in 1902 Theodore Roosevelt gave a speech at Arlington National Cemetery, and here's a man who went out to North Dakota after his wife and mother died and bought an interest in a cattle ranch and learned to ride horses and herd cattle and talk over a herd of cattle and be heard, and the cicadas in 1902 almost drowned him out. And I think one of my favorite stories of courses in 1970, Bob Dylan, got an honorary degree from Princeton University. And while he's at the ceremony, and he brought with him David Crosby, who was sitting on the front row with all the family and friends of the people getting degrees, and laughing at Bob Dylan, who wouldn't go get his Nobel Prize, but he got this honorary degree. In the background, the cicadas were singing, and he goes back home and writes a song about the song "The Locust Sang For Me", or "The Day of the Locust", which is kind of neat, so and he's not the only artists that saw the periodical cicadas and got excited. Ogden Nash wrote a really interesting poem about cicadas as well.

Nicole 35:55

Oh, interesting. So do you also have kind of the other significant history of cicadas in there as well, as far as they they're tied to like human history?

Gene 36:05

Yeah, yeah. So, I'lll touch base, you all say like in the year 1800, Thomas Jefferson has become the President of the United States at that time, there's some some interesting things like and we have a wonderful article from the Indianapolis newspaper in Indianapolis, back in 1886 85. I think somewhere that time, which is all it's almost poetic, the way it's written. It's just an incredible it describes the whole life cycle, especially the reproductive process of, of the cicadas originally published to the Local Courier, things like that, but also the scientists who were involved with this early work. case in point, Pehr Kalm who was essentially a disciple of Linnaeus, came over in 1749 and collected as a witness the brood 10, emergence that year, and took cicadas back to Sweden. That's why Carl Linnaeus named the first species cicada septon desam. That was Linnaeus who named the first periodical cicada.

Nicole 36:59

How interesting. So the Cicada Safari app, I assume that's available both for iPhones and Androids.

Gene 37:06

Yes, it is in the App Store on Apple or Google Play will have it.

Nicole 37:10

And your "Brood 10" book, where can we find that?

Gene 37:14

You can find that on Amazon, there is a bookstore, the Audubon Natural History society in Chevy Chase in Washington, DC has copies I believe, and there, it also copies at other bookstores, well you'll see them here in Cincinnati, but it came out so late, that a lot of the major facilities that bookstores used to buy copies of couldn't get their hands on it fast enough to get it out there. So like there, there are three versions available on Amazon, a full color version, which is rather I think, entomologists are frugal, but that was that that was kind of expensive. So there's also a black and white version of the same book. And then even the very affordable $9.99, full color, print duplicate of the Cicadas on Kindle. And so it's available in those three price ranges. And you can also go to "", which is the website that supports the app. But it also has activities for kids, how to folded origami cicada cicadas in color, and how to interview grandparents to find out what they they remember from previous emergences.

Nicole 38:16

Oh, exciting. So of course, we'll put the links to all of those in the show notes so that people can find them easily. And Gene, thank you so much for your time, I didn't realize that cicadas could be so interesting and exciting. And I really enjoyed talking with you today. And I love your enthusiasm and thank you so much for your time and your information.

Gene 38:35

Well I appreciate being here. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Nicole 38:38

Wonderful and I'm happy to hear that in for those listening. And thank you so much for joining me for another episode and we'll see you again next week.

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Emerging periodical cicada on tree bark

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