Cicadas of Illinois

August 31, 2022 clifftop CliffNotes

There are 22 species of cicadas that can be found in Illinois, including two species that within Illinois are only found in clifftop prairies in Monroe and Madison County. Prior to 2018, no one even knew that Beameria venosa and Neotibicen auriferus (Plain’s Dog-day Cicada) were here in Illinois.

Beameria venosa cicadas are known for the black veins on their wings.

Over the past few years Catherine (Katie) Dana and other students at the Illinois Natural History Survey have been catching cicadas and taking DNA samples by clipping a single leg – after all, they have five more. The DNA is then extracted, processed, given a unique ID for the individual, and sequenced using a powerful sequencing machine that provides us with hundreds of gigabytes of genetic code. That single leg can provide an enormous amount of information on how large a population is, if it is connected to surrounding populations and if not, how long it has been isolated.  Given the fragmented nature of Illinois, understanding the status of these rare and relict populations can help us to better protect them. Many of the species that Dana studies are only found in prairies where the soil has remained relatively undisturbed – nature preserves, cemeteries, and railroad prairies.

Taking a DNA sample by clipping a leg.

Cicadas have an incredibly unique ecology and life history. Depending on the species, young cicadas, or nymphs, spend anywhere from one to 21 years underground before digging their way up to the surface. Once there, they spend several weeks singing, mating, and laying eggs in twigs or grass stems. These eggs hatch and the nymphs, often no larger than a grain of rice, fall to the ground and dig their way below the surface. They will feed on plant roots for years, growing larger, and hopefully avoiding being eaten by predators, like small mammals, underground. Much like bird calls, every cicada species has a unique song. Cicadas provide a large meal for our wildlife, like insectivorous birds, small mammals, snakes, and even other insects.

Come learn more about how cicadas create a geographically unique soundtrack of summer that changes as the weeks go by and find out what incredibly rare event is happening in 2024 in your own backyard.

“Cicadas of Illinois: New Discoveries and Our Local Soundscapes,” an audio tour of the many cicada species found in Illinois, will be presented by Ms. Dana, Entomology Scientific Specialist, on Saturday, September 10, 2022 at 1:00 p.m. at the Monroe County Annex Building, 901 Illinois Avenue, Waterloo. Register to attend at this link: Click here to register or call 618-935-2542.

CLIFFTOP, a local nonprofit organization, is focused on preserving and protecting area bluff lands.

A version of this article appeared in the August 24, 2022 edition of the Republic-Times.

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