Scientists Count New York's Cricket Population

Scientists are asking New Yorkers' help to track the city's population of the common true katydid. New Yorkers have been asked to use their cell phones to record the insects' calls for 1 minute, and send their results and locations to scientists. Louis Sorkin, an entomologist with the American Museum of Natural History and co-organizer of NYC Cricket Crawl, says the project is an attempt to find out if katydids still live in New York.

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NOAH ADAMS, host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Noah Adams.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

And I'm Robert Siegel. New Yorkers are being asked to take their cell phones into the wilds, or at least what pass for the wilds, of New York City next week in the hopes of recording this sound.

(Soundbite of katydid)

SIEGEL: That is the sound of the common true katydid. It's very different from, say, the northern fall field cricket.

(Soundbite of cricket)

SIEGEL: Once again, common true katydid:

(Soundbite of katydid)

SIEGEL: And northern fall field cricket:

(Soundbite of cricket)

SIEGEL: Now, if you're wondering: why would hundreds or possibly thousands of people go out in search of the common true katydid? Well, so are we. So we've called upon Louis Sorkin, who is an entomologist at the American Museum of Natural History and a co-organizer of the NYC Cricket Crawl, which happens next Friday. Why? Why are you doing this?

Mr. LOUIS SORKIN (Entomologist, American Museum of Natural History): We're trying to find out if this particular species of katydid is, in fact, still in this area.

Previously, there have been reports that the insect had been extirpated from a large area - it's native geographic area because of very many reasons. Some of those could be deforestation, change in the environment.

SIEGEL: And those reports go back, I gather, to 1920.

Mr. SORKIN: That's correct. And then recent research by workers up in the Bronx said they did hear that katydid. So that's what prompted a few of us to look into it and organize a cricket crawl.

SIEGEL: A cricket crawl. Now, you're asking people to go out with their cell phones and then, I guess, phone in what they get into some central point. What can you actually determine from that? And how good a recording device is a cell phone?

Mr. SORKIN: Well, actually, what we did realize is that cell phones are optimized for human voice, and that doesn't include katydids and crickets necessarily.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. SORKIN: That's right. So they're not one of the better ways to do it, but if people do their homework, you know, go to the cricket-crawl Web site, look at pictures of the common katydids and crickets that will be mostly likely found and listen to their vocalizations, then they'll be prepared to go into the wilds of New York and listen.

SIEGEL: And will you be able to locate all of these different recordings, as to where they were done? You discover that you can hear this katydid up near Van Cortlandt Park, but nowhere in Queens? Can you get that specific?

Mr. SORKIN: Oh, sure. Wherever people are going to be, if they've done their homework, they'll know what they've heard. And if they have a better device than the cell phone, they may be able to record it and then always, you know, email that in or even come in to our base camp.

SIEGEL: If a family goes out armed with their cell phone or some other recording device, perhaps, what's the best time for them to go listening for katydids and crickets?

Mr. SORKIN: Well, that's later in the day, 8:00, 8:30 even, and it will be going until at least midnight.

SIEGEL: And you have some real-time, online assembly of all this information, I gather.

Mr. SORKIN: That's correct, and we'll have life-time maps and other information about what people are reporting.

SIEGEL: So it would be like watching the returns come in from an election that just happened, to see where the katydids are popping up around the city.

Mr. SORKIN: That's right. Things will be hopping.

SIEGEL: You know, when we think of New York City and the sound of katydids or crickets, it seems like nowhere is the competition greater to record a sound than in New York, where there's going to be traffic and the sound of the subway and air traffic overhead and just the sound of a lot of people being around.

Mr. SORKIN: Well, it actually depends on the neighborhood, too, because eight o'clock, maybe midnight, in certain areas of the city are actually quite quiet, and you may even hear a cricket chirp or a pin drop.

SIEGEL: Well, Louis Sorkin, thank you very much for talking with us about the New York City Cricket Crawl set for September 11th.

Mr. SORKIN: Thank you.

SIEGEL: That's entomologist Louis Sorkin, of the American Museum of Natural History. He spoke to us from our bureau in New York.

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