The University of Southampton

Smartphone app could discover endangered insect

Published: 
9 November 2012

ECS researchers are developing a smartphone app that will be able to help conservationists discover if a highly endangered insect has become extinct or not.

The New Forest cicada (Cicadetta Montana) is native to Britain but has not been spotted or heard from for more than a decade.

But Dr Alex Rogers, from the Agents, Interaction and Complexity research group, is hoping the new software he and his team are developing can help in the scientific hunt for the insect.

“The cicada has a distinctive high-pitched song that is on the very upper limit of an adult’s hearing range. It is so high pitched that you are never quite sure you are hearing it but the average smartphone is quite capable of picking up such frequencies,” said Alex.

Visitors to the New Forest will be able to download the app, turning their mobile into a portable cicada detector. They will then be able to use their phones to scour the area in search of the elusive creatures.

“If a potential song is detected the app gives immediate feedback that it thinks a cicada has been heard. It will then ask permission to upload the recording to a server so it can be analysed in more detail. We’d then contact them off-line and investigate the sighting, revisiting the site to get more recordings,” added Alex.

The app could also be used to detect a number of other insect species such as Roesel’s bush crickets, wood crickets and the common grasshopper, and Davide Zilli, a PhD student in the team, is currently working on automatic ways to detect and classify these different insects.

He said: “We also want users to report back to us that they have visited specific sites and heard nothing, so that we can build maps of areas that have been explored, and encourage others to investigate less well explored areas.”

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