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Purdue Extension Shared 17-Year Cicada Outbreak Information and Resources with Thousands Across Indiana

Once every 17 years, millions of cicadas per acre crawl out of the ground and climb into trees, where they spend an entire month screaming louder than a lawnmower, mate, and lay their eggs on the tips of branches. Cicadas are not harmful to humans, provide a feast for wildlife, and mostly cause only cosmetic injury to trees. However, some trees will need protection to survive. Female cicadas cause damage when they puncture or slit 3/16” to 7/16” diameter twigs of trees and shrubs to lay their eggs. Infested branches appear as if the eggs have been stitched in by a sewing machine. These branches will turn brown, die, and sometimes break off. Although cicadas do not cause long-term harm to trees, many people unfamiliar with them refer to these insects as a plague of locusts and attempt unnecessary or unsafe approaches to killing them.

The goal of Purdue University’s multidisciplinary Cicada Outreach Team was to promote public safety and prevent panic with an education campaign that framed the cicada emergence as a wonder to be enjoyed nd naot a plague to be endured. Purdue Extension developed a coordinated system to create and share education resources to support existing county and campus-led programs across multiple departments. Specific messages were crafted and shared for tree producers, nurseries, landscapes, and specialty crops. Information delivery occurred via county Extension Master Gardener groups, commodity newsletters (Facts for Fancy Fruit, Purdue Landscape Report and Indiana Woodland Steward) and activities (Entomology’s Virtual Bug Bowl, Forestry and Natural Resources’ Ask the Expert).

Cicada slides were developed and shared in more than 35 hours of live and recorded programs by Extension Educators that reached over 1,500 youth and adults. “Emergence of the 17-Year Cicada,” the Team’s website, introduced this insect to prevent panic spraying of insecticides, or the hiring of contractors selling false promises of protection. Website visitors were encouraged to sign up for a newsletter to stay informed of the cicada emergence, and to participate in Indiana Cicada Emergence Trackers, a community science effort to report and map cicada activity on smartphones via i-Naturalist. Community science programs were divided for two audiences: general public and Extension Master Gardeners.

In addition, a variety of activities, videos, and resources were featured, including a specially designed poster for use in state parks, youth education activities, origami, and cookie recipes. The Cicada Team generated a buzz strong enough to experience an extraordinary amount of media coverage, reaching nearly 30 local and national news outlets, Bringing World-Class Education to Rural and Urban Communities 9 including the Indianapolis Star, South Bend Tribune, NBC, CBS, ABC, NPR, Disney Plus, and National Geographic. The team lead conducted 47 media interviews and local Extension Educators and Specialists added many more. “Emergence of the 17-Year Cicada” had nearly 23,000 unique views, with more than 950 downloads of posters and 120 downloads of youth education activities. Videos deployed by the team on Facebook and YouTube were viewed more than 12,000 times. Zombie Cicadas, the most popular video, was downloaded 6,095 times.

The social media campaign reached nearly 85,000 individuals. Community science efforts resulted in 75 observers across the state reporting more than 360 observations of cicadas and other Indiana species. These observations are currently being analyzed to refine understanding of the seasonal biology of the cicada in Indiana. In consultation with leaders in the tree care industry, the Cicada Team worked with AES (formerly Indianapolis Power and Light), Indy Parks, and the Indiana Arborist Association to distribute information about how to protect newly planted trees during the annual tree giveaway. A thousand information sheets were distributed during the one-day event. Purdue Extension’s coordinated and multidisciplinary efforts for the 17-year cicada provided helpful insect, tree, and shrub information, resources, and education that reached thousands across Indiana.

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