Saturday June 5 Good Science News #17 The Brood
Updated: Jul 19, 2021
Our dog, Sammy is a rescue from Mexico. She is a pretty good dog and, for the most part, well trained. But she lived on her own as a pup, and her feral instincts run deep. If she sees a rabbit or a squirrel, she is gone. The call of the wild. Right now in the eastern united states, the 17 year cicada is emerging from its underground home. These animals are from periodic emerging cicada Brood X, for in the United States cicadas can be grouped into 15 different broods that differ in how long they remain underground (the 17 year cicada is the longest), where they are located and when they emerge. These insects live underground for their entire lives, existing off of the sap that they extrude from tree roots. Then, when the ground temperature is just right, and it is their year, they emerge en masse, emit enough noise as to be deafening, breed, then die. But this isn’t a vignette about the insect, but rather about the citizen scientists that follow them. A faculty member at Mount St Joseph University in Cincinnati has developed an app called Cicada Safari, that citizen scientists can use to participate in the cicada emergence. Community members can upload photos of cicadas and the researchers at Mount St. Joseph will determine the brood to which the animal belongs. This year to date, over 150,000 people have uploaded photos onto the app, so this isn't a passing fancy. Furthermore, the participants are actually creating crowd
sourced science, as last year they documented a very unusual event. It was expected that the first emerging cicadas in 2020 would be members of Brood IX, which mostly lives in Virginia, West Virginia, and North Carolina. Instead, cicadas were emerging from a different Brood that
lives in Georgia, South Carolina, Alabama and Missouri. The interesting thing about this emergence was that it was not expected to happen for another 4 years. Somehow a population of cicadas went rogue and split off from its ancestral Brood, creating a new one that may develop its own emergence cycle and be designated with its own Brood number.
This has happened before, but in the case of the 2020 split, the new Brood was identified by citizen scientists using the app to document the event. What would compel a non-scientist to download an app and take a photo of a noisy, chattering insect? The cicada emergence is a natural wonder, and if looked at through the proper lens, is an awe inspiring event. The shear magnitude of the emergence with millions o
f animals emerging at the same time, is something that hundreds of thousands of us want to witness and, to the best of our ability, share in the spectacle.
Like my dog Sammy, we are not distinct from the natural world around us but are drawn to it. It is why we stare into the night sky on camp out trips, or why we are mesmerized by the wave action on large bodies of water. And for some of us, it is why we take photos of noisy, charismatic insects and upload their photos for further study.