What's Bugging You? →

Virginia Cicada Project

Neotibicen winnemanna
Neotibicen winnemanna (Davis) (Hemiptera: Cicadidae)  

Entomologist Dr. Art Evans discusses with VPM radio producer Steve Clark, Art's latest project to survey the cicadas of Virginia. Twenty-five species and subspecies of annual and periodical cicadas are currently known to inhabit the Commonwealth.

Steve Clark:  I'm Steve Clark with Dr. Art Evans, entomologist, and this is What’s Bugging You.   I've been wondering what's happening with your Virginia cicada project?

Art Evans:  Well, I've been reluctant to say anything about it because I didn't want to be overwhelmed with everyone's goodwill and finding piles of bodies at my door.  I've always been interested in cicadas.  A few months ago I was with friends in Martinsville, and it turns out several of us are interested in cicadas, and at that moment the Virginia cicada project was born.  I have no business taking on another project.  I have a beetle book to finish, and I have another beetle book to start, [laughing] so this is total displacement behavior for me, but it gives me a chance to learn something new.  I've discovered that there are 25 species and subspecies of cicadas currently known from Virginia.  Some of them are specialists; they prefer to live along the coast.  There are others that are more common in the Sand Hills, and there are others that are found everywhere else in Virginia. 

Clark:  Well do the all have a distinctive song or are they grouped up? 

Evans:  The males have very distinctive calls, and this is an impediment for me.  [laughing] I'm not that good at discriminating the calls.  I can hear the differences, but I haven't yet been able to relate them to a particular species, but that's changing.  A few weeks ago we played some cicada calls. . .

Clark:  Right.

Evans:  . . . from some of the species that are in my neighborhood, and that site, cicadamania.com, has been a big help to me, and so I'm slowly learning them.  Collecting cicadas is a challenge.  When they're alive, they are way up in the trees.  They are very alert.  They're incredibly fast, very difficult to capture.  Some of them will come to lights at night, so that's a possibility.  A few of them have turned up in my traps that I have out scattered around, but most of the specimens that I'm working with are those that are dead or dying that have come to the end of their lives, and you'll just find them lying around. 

Clark:  Do you collect the ones that have recently emerged from their shell? 

Evans:  If I find them.  I haven't been collecting shells either.  When I find them, I set them aside, but right now I'm not exactly sure what to do with them yet.  They're incredibly valuable.  If you have the adult emerging from the shell, that way you can easily identify it to species and then at some point you could create an identification key to the shells or exuvia, the cast-off exoskeletons, but I'm not at that point yet.  One of the things we would like to do is publish our results in the Insects of Virginia series put out by the Virginia Museum of Natural History.  Ideally if we could get it out by 2022, that would be the 100th anniversary of the only other paper that's ever looked at the Virginia cicadas in their entirety.  That was published by William T. Davis in 1922.

Clark:  You had a citizen science component to this as well, did you not? 

Evans:  I did.  I asked friends and neighbors and also put the word out to Virginia master naturalists to keep an eye out for dead or dying cicadas that we're in good shape.  

Clark:  So what’s next?

Evans:  Well, what's next is to start reviewing museum collections and gathering specimen records at the county level and start developing distribution maps.  Luckily for me, there are some really good, thorough papers that have come out in the last five years that make my job a lot easier.  So I have a great starting point.

Clark:  Dr. Art Evans is a research associate at the Virginia Museum of Natural History.  You’ll find photos, audio, and links to the museum and Art’s Facebook page at vpm.org/bugs.


Dr. Arthur V. Evans teams up with VPM Radio producer Steve Clark for a weekly feature, “What’s Bugging You?,” which airs during NPR’s Morning Edition. The program takes its name from another of Evans’ books “What’s Bugging You – A Fond Look at the Animals We Love to Hate.”

Tune in each Tuesday at 8:45 a.m. or at 5:44 p.m. on VPM News