Today’s Solutions: June 15, 2024

Citizen science has been booming during the pandemic as curious adventurers seek out new ways to get involved in their local natural environment. As billions of cicadas rise up after their 17-year slumber, teams of citizen scientists are taking on the task of mapping their path and prevalence through the Northeast and Midwest. 

These dedicated volunteers use the Cicada Safari mobile app to geotag photos and videos on a live map, documenting where cicadas are making an appearance. 87,000 people have already registered with the app and are hard at work tracking bugs in their area. The collected data is valuable for mapping the exact territory boundaries of this year’s Brood X cicada rising. Comparing this data against years past helps scientists determine how the species changes over time and how climate change impacts the insects’ activity. 

Cicada Safari was created by Gene Kritsky, an entomologist at Mount St. Joseph University in Cincinnati. He’s been developing the program for two years in anticipation of Brood X. 

Researchers have relied on citizen science for cicada spotting for decades. Crowd data sourcing on cicada behavior has been going on since the 1840s when entomologist Gideon Smith placed ads in local papers asking for readers to write in their cicada sightings. Letters from these early citizen scientists helped confirm the insect’s 13-year lifecycle. 

Modern technology has made the process a little easier. When he isn’t working, online marketer Dan Mozgai heads out in his Map-O-Matic GPS system-equipped car to spot and log cicadas in the New Jersey region. 

Citizen scientists are so valuable because they provide eyes on the ground when researchers cannot. There is no way for researchers to be everywhere at once, but if everyone jots down when they see cicadas in their backyard, suddenly we have a complete and extensive data set to work with. 

This is especially important as cicadas are highly vulnerable to climate change. Their risings are dictated by temperature and a warm winter or false spring can cause them to rise prematurely. If cicadas become out of sync, they are far more vulnerable to predators. This year, researchers are particularly focused on early cicada sightings to determine how many are being tricked out of their natural cycle by a warming planet. 

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