Urban Buzz: Citizen Science with Cicadas

About this lesson

At any given moment we’ve got animals living under our feet – some of them for 17 years at a time. An underground universe populated by mysterious creatures, digging… feeding… emerging.

Sometimes their underground homes get paved over, or flooded, or have a bucket of bright green toxic sludge poured on them. Scientists want to learn more about what happens to cicadas when they’re down there for so long – so they need your help. Go out with your students, parents, kids, grandparents, friends, dogs, friend’s dogs and collect some dead bugs and send them to us! (Yes, you heard that right.)

View this the Urban Buzz Project on iNaturalist.

scistarterView Urban Buzz on SciStarter.com


Habitat Guide
Data Card
Cicada Anatomy

How to participate

Step 1
Step 1

Step 1

Collect cicadas: Pick-up 2-5 (or more if you’re feeling like an overachiever) dead or alive bugs and freeze them to kill off the insect or the insects that might be trying to parasitize them (it happens). Photo by Lea Shell

Step 2
Step 2

Step 2

Determine habitat type: Where did you collect the cicadas? Look down and match the habitat guide to where you found the insects – is it paved? Mowed? Forested? Photos by Lea Shell

Step 3
Step 3

Step 3

Male or female?: Flip the cicada over to see if it’s a boy or a girl; girls will have a straw-like structure called an ovipositor and a boy will not. Photos by Lea Shell

Step 4
Step 4

Step 4

Record Data: It’s only science if we write it down, right? So use the Urban Buzz Data Card(s) – one per cicada – to record the outside temperature, GPS coordinates, habitat type and sex so that scientists can learn more about the cicadas you’re sending in. Photo by Lea Shell

Step 5
Step 5

Step 5

Mail us your dead bugs, please! Freeze, package, include the filled out Urban Buzz Data Card(s) and then ship (the insects don’t have to stay frozen, that’s unnecessary) your cicadas to the Urban Buzz Citizen Science researchers at NC State (address listed below). Photo by Lea Shell

Materials List

  • Protective plastic container to keep the bugs from getting completely smashed by the antics of the United States Postal Service.
  • Paper towels (for padding the insects on their journey to North Carolina)
  • Google Maps or some means of getting GPS coordinates from the collection site
  • Printed habitat guide (Habitat Guide)
  • Thermometer or accurate weather report
  • Data card(s) – one per insect collected (Urban Buzz Data Card)

Mailing Address

Mail Cicadas to researchers at UT Chattanooga:
Dept. Biology, Geology and Environmental Science

Attn: Dr. DeAnna Beasley
702 E. 5th St.
215 Holt Hall
University of Tennessee at Chattanooga
Chattanooga, TN 37403[/fusion_builder_column_inner]

Packing Instructions

  1. Cicadas can be individually packaged in ziplock bags or plastic containers.
  2. Wrap cicada in 1-2 paper towels to protect it during shipping.
  3. Before shipping, PLEASE pop your collection containers in the freezer for 24 hours.
  4. Don’t forget to include the data card!

What are cicadas?

Hello I'm a cicadaCicadas are large insects from the order Hemiptera famous for all emerging in massive numbers and making a lot of noise in the summer (some might say, “synchronous emergence and loud courtship calls of the males,” but let’s be real – they’re loud and there’s a lot of them.) They’re not locusts, please don’t call them that, it enrages the entomologists.

They’re also famous for their unusual life cycle, most of it spent underground, which can last a couple of years or over a decade, depending on the species. Some cicadas, like those in the North American Magicicada genus, have 13- or 17-year life cycles!

Learn more about their natural history! (by filmmaker Samuel Orr)

What is the project about?

  • Cicadas are sensitive to changes in their environment, especially temperature and the availability of trees.
  • As more people populate the planet… we build cities and homes and those come with roads and sidewalks and pollution. Have you ever noticed that the sidewalk is hotter than the grass? The cicadas noticed that, too. These rising temperatures are sometimes called an “urban heat island” – which sounds like a lovely place to visit, right?
  • Researchers are studying how cicadas are responding to environmental changes associated with urbanization (humans building more buildings and paving more land) by measuring the wonkiness (“abnormalities and asymmetry”) in cicada wings and legs.

About the Research

Once cicadas are received in the lab they are first inspected to make sure they are complete specimens and survived their travels through the mail. Each specimen is labeled with its collecting information. Photo by Holly Menninger.

Then a researcher removes and positions the wings in a uniform way for each specimen. Photo by Lauren Nichols.

Next a researcher photographs the wings for analysis. Photo by Lauren Nichols.

Each vein is marked so wing variation and asymmetry can be measured. Photo by Lauren Nichols.

About the Scientist

DeAnna Beasley
Dr. DeAnna Beasley is an assistant professor in the Biology, Geology and Environmental Science department at the University of Tennessee in Chattanooga.

Follow DeAnna

About the SciArt

buzz_hoot_roar Students Discover SciArt is created by Buzz Hoot Roar, the amazing team that brings science to life in their graphics-driven science blog.

About the Artist

Christine Fleming is an illustrator and writer from North Carolina. She graduated from North Carolina State University with a BFA in Graphic Design, and now writes and illustrates picture books and graphic novels, creates science based illustrations and comics for blogs and magazines, and teaches illustration.

Follow Christine


As students collect cicadas, discuss the possible changes in environment that have happened over the course of the last 17 years on the piece of land they’re standing upon.


Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS)

3-LS1-1 From molecules to organisms: Structures and Processes 

  • 3-LS1-1
    Develop models to describe that organisms have unique and diverse life cycles but all have in common birth, growth, reproduction, and death.

3-LS4-3 Biological Evolution: Unity and Diversity

  • 3-LS4-3
    Construct an argument with evidence that in a particular habitat some organisms can survive well, some survive less well, and some cannot survive at all.

MS-LS2 Ecosystems: Interactions, Energy, and Dynamics

  • MS-LS2-1
    Analyze and interpret data to provide evidence for the effects of resource availability on organisms and populations of organisms in an ecosystem.
MS-LS4 Biological Evolution: Unity and Diversity

  • MS-LS4-3
    Analyze displays of pictorial data to compare patterns of similarities in the embryological development across multiple species to identify relationships not evident in the fully formed anatomy.
  • MS-LS4-4
    Construct an explanation based on evidence that describes how genetic variations of traits in a population increase some individuals’ probability of surviving and reproducing in a specific environment.
  • MS-LS4-5
    Gather and synthesize information about the technologies that have changed the way humans influence the inheritance of desired traits in organisms.
2017-01-24T15:49:22+00:00April 13th, 2016|Citizen Science, Entomology, Urban Ecology|