Cicada Collection Pro-Tips

Today, the Your Wild Life team took a cicada safari to Greensboro to collect some dead cicadas for the Urban Buzz project. We figured we couldn’t ask you all to do the heavy lift, without contributing a few data points ourselves.

And in the process of collecting, we learned a few things:

  1.  As we noted on our first trip to Greensboro, dead cicadas are pretty easy to come by – We had good luck finding them near the edge of yards, close to curbs, and under “mother-lode” trees where emergence had been particularly intense (as evident by piles of nymph exuviae – also known as the shells).

    Dead cicadas were easy to find near trees where emergence had been dense. Photo credit: Holly Menninger

  2. Wandering around a cicada-filled neighborhood and not sure where to stop and collect? Follow the flagging! This is the term for cicada-induced damage at the tips of tree branches. When females use their saw-like ovipositor to cut small slits and lay eggs in twigs (they prefer those about the diameter of a pencil), they weaken the branch tip. The leaves at the end will die and turn brown. The damage is typically not enough to harm or kill a tree, and gives a good visual cue that periodical cicadas have been busy in your area.

Close-up of flagging on an oak tree (left) and view of flagging from street level (right). Photo credit: Holly Menninger

  • Be choosy! You’ll see a lot of dead cicadas. You will feel the urge to pick up Every. Single. One. We applaud your enthusiasm, but ask you to be choosy. We want cicadas in good condition – that means all 4 wings whole (often you’ll see chunks of the forewings torn off), 6 legs, and an intact abdomen.  Fewer body parts means fewer measurements we can make to assess their “crookedness.”
  • Before you mail your cicada loot to us, PLEASE pop your collection containers in the freezer for 24 hours. Dead cicadas are food for a whole lot of other critters. By the time we returned to Raleigh, our collection containers were writhing with maggots (hatched from eggs laid by flies that specialize on carrion), several types of ants, beetles and mites. These hitchhikers feeding on the dead cicadas are unfortunate casualties to the project, but hey, keep them in the collection containers – we might have an interesting off-shoot of School of Antson our hands based on the ants affiliated with the dead cicadas…
  • Not only are you collecting dead cicadas, you are collecting the things feeding on them. Photo credit: Holly Menninger

  • A final word about containers: Yes, plastic bags are probably the easiest thing to use when collecting the cicadas, BUT we found that the cicadas – particularly those that have been dead for a long time – get pretty beat up inside the bags. Please use a more rigid container – we liked the small plastic containers that we typically use for food leftovers.
  • Plastic containers are our recommended dead cicada collection container. Photo credit: Holly Menninger

    Tell us about your own cicada safaris – We’re eager to learn how it’s going. We were psyched to receive our first data form submissions and can’t wait to receive your samples!

    By |2016-11-22T13:47:25-05:00June 5th, 2013|

    Share this story!

    About the Author:

    Holly Menninger
    As Director of Public Science, Holly coordinates our empire of citizen science projects and manages the online science communication here at Your Wild Life. An entomologist by training, she’s a science communicator by passion and practice.


    1. Avatar
      Michi Vojta June 6, 2013 at 10:24 pm - Reply

      I found mine much closer to campus: Here in Raleigh, NC. But again, I think it was a hitchhiker, as there wasn’t a tree for a couple hundred feet…(Lowe’s parking lot). Still, reckon yáll will get it in a few weeks, when I get around to bringing / mailing it.

    2. Avatar
      Kathryn Cappillino June 9, 2013 at 7:39 pm - Reply

      We found a bunch at Mills Mansion in Staatsburg, NY. At the beginning of the walk we were sure it was going to be failed endeavor, beause most were alive and flying around in trees, but by mile 3.5 we hit a sweet spot with a bunch dead and dying on the ground. Expect them in the mail! Kat :)

    Leave A Comment