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Entomology News

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Following the sounds of prairie cicadas

When I arrive at the Loda Cemetery Prairie Nature Preserve, Katie Dana is already out there. She’s wearing knee-high boots to ward off chiggers and ticks, and she’s carrying an insect net. Dana is on the prowl for cicadas: the loudest insects on the planet. On this hot summer day, they do not disappoint. The males are in full chorus.

I wade out into the vegetation to meet her and she walks us to a spot toward the center of this 12-acre prairie. She gestures toward a row of conifers that mark the cemetery boundary. This part of the prairie, the part closest to the cemetery, is ancient, she says. It was never plowed under to make way for crops. The rest has been restored. The ancient part looks thicker and has more prairie dock, with its giant spadelike leaves stretching up to the sky.

The prairie stretches downhill from the cemetery to the edge of a soybean field. Beyond the soybeans – Dana points to a railroad berm less than a mile away – is more cicada habitat. Do those cicadas come over to this prairie? Or does the soybean field act as a barrier that stops these populations from merging? And how long do these cicadas spend underground before emerging? Those are some of the many questions Dana wants to answer.

Loda Cemetery Prairie is one of more than two dozen sites Dana is visiting this summer. She is a scientific specialist in entomology for the Illinois Natural History Survey. Her task is to capture more than 20 individual cicadas at each locale across the state, identify the species, collect a bit of their DNA, save a representative pair of each species and, later, study their DNA. She also has some fun side projects on her plate. She likes to record the songs of each male she captures, to one day discover if different populations of the same species are developing their own “dialects” in different parts of the state.

Dana has been collecting cicadas in Illinois since 2013. In the process, she’s learned to differentiate their calls.

The full article has many fantastic photos by Diana Yates and Katie Dana:

Read the full article at the Illinois News Bureau

Publication Date: 09/25/2020
Photo credits: Diana Yates
Editor: Diana Yates