Archived content - Cicada (6 of 46)

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A. Introduction (Continued)

3. Collecting and Preserving

Adults are notably shy. Their large, globelike eyes give warning of the approach of potential enemies from almost any angle. They will immediately cease singing and seem to listen for sounds of approach. If not further alarmed, they sit quietly. Their usual mottled body patterns blend admirably with the foliage around them. It is particularly annoying to a collector not to be able to see such a large insect when it is right in front of you!

Description of this image follows.
A picture of a cicada

Alarmed, they drop from their perch and dart away on swift wings. Their long, narrow front wings and small hind wings are admirably suited for evading birds with rapid flight. They usually cling in a vertical position, ready to drop into a swooping takeoff. Generally, they fly just far enough to find another hiding place. If knocked to the ground, they are not so well suited for escaping, and will rattle and buzz with their wings quite ineffectively.

Cicadas that favour low vegetation (such as Okanagana species) are often collected with a standard sweep net. Those that roost in trees are more difficult to capture. Collectors favour a light aerial net on a long handle and a downward strike to catch the insect in take-off. Most frequently used is a butterfly net mounted on a very light, jointed handle that is typically 3-5 metres long.

Inhabitants of southeast Asia who collect cicadas for food use a long, slender pole (bamboo or other lightweight wood) with dried jackfruit juice on the tip. The sticky end is carefully brought up to the singing cicada, then quickly tapped against it to make it adhere. The specimen can be removed using vegetable oil. If you use a different adhesive, make sure that the solvent will not damage the colours of the cicada.

Careful stalking of singing males will usually lead one to both sexes. The trick is in approaching within striking distance without causing them to fly away. Climbing trees to get at them is out of the question. They can flash from tree to tree much faster than you can. In an extremity it is possible to knock them from a treetop by firing a cartridge loaded with fine sand.

Captured cicadas should be killed quickly and painlessly in a wide-mouthed glass jar using an absorbent bottom layer (not sawdust, which is reactive) soaked with ethyl acetate (which is harmless to people). Several specimens can be killed in the same jar as long as there is crumpled tissue to prevent them from damaging each other. The fumes will knock them out in less than a minute, but they should be left in the jar for at least five minutes or they will revive when removed. Green specimens, if left too long in the fumes, will turn yellow.

Dead specimens may be stored in 85% ethyl alcohol, or pinned with an insect pin (only these are long enough and non-rusting) and left to air dry. Specimens freshly killed or removed from alcohol may be spread like butterflies. Although this looks pretty in a collection, it serves little scientific purpose and quickly uses up valuable collection space. Some people prefer to spread one side only, thus saving 40% of the space and half of the time that a completely spread specimen would consume. Dry specimens are easy to store but difficult to dissect (Section 6D).

You may prefer to search for newly emerging nymphs that will soon molt into adults. If so, come prepared to keep each nymph separate from the others, and give it something to climb upon. It will molt lying on its back, or attached to another nymph, if given the chance. The result will not be a satisfactory specimen. For tips on collecting and rearing nymphs, see Massachusetts cicadas.

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