A ‘one-in-a-million’ blue-eyed cicada spotted by 4-year-old child

This female Brood XIII cicada has a rare genetic mutation that turned its eyes a very unusual color.
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a close up of a cicada with blue eyes
A toddler in Illinois found this rare blue-eyed cicada in May. Daniel Le, Field Museum

Parts of the Midwest and South are gripped in the spring/summer of cicadas, cicadapocalypse, cicada-geddon–whatever you want to call this rare double-brood emergence. One family outside of Chicago is chirping with excitement after they found a cicada sporting a rare mutation. These noisy bugs normally have very distinctive red eyes, but this specimen sported blueish-gray peepers. 

The specimen is a female Magicicada cassini. It is the first blue-eyed cicada added to Chicago’s Field Museum over 100 year-old cicada collection.

“I have been in Chicago for five periodical Cicada emergences of our BroodXIII, and this is the first blue-eyed cicada I have seen,” Field Museum collections assistant Jim Louderman said in a statement. “I have also seen two emergences of Brood X in Indiana and two emergences of Brood XIX in Central Illinois. These rare insect emergences are always infertile and can not have offspring, which is why they remain so rare.”

A lateral view of this rare blue-eyed cicada. CREDIT: Daniel Le, Field Museum
A lateral view of this rare blue-eyed cicada. CREDIT: Daniel Le, Field Museum

This rare genetic mutilation is considered a “one in a million,” occurrence. It was found in late May by four-year-old Jack Bailey from Wheaton, Illinois.

“My 4-year-old son, Jack, has been in heaven since they started emerging and has taken to collecting a lot of them,” mom Greta Bailey told The Field Museum. “My daughter, Caroline, looked into his collection bucket and saw the blue-eyed one. She brought it inside and showed it to me. I thought it was cool and unique and had not heard that blue-eyed cicadas even existed. I took a few pictures and Caroline let it go. Well, after telling my family about it, we came to find out how rare they are and were kicking ourselves for not keeping it.”

Later, Caroline and her twin sister Addison took out some flashlights and searched for the funky eyed cicada where it had been released. They were able to find it again and made sure to keep it safe. Greta then got in touch with the Field Museum about adding it to their collection.

[Related: The Brood X cicadas are coming, and you should eat them. Here’s how.]

During the Brood X emergence in 2021, there were some rumors that blue-eyed cicadas were worth a lot of money. However, this was debunked. 

Even blue-eyed cicadas are short lived, so it has since died and has been added to the museum’s behind-the-scenes collections of insects. This “library of life on earth” allows scientists to study various specimens. Since blue-eyed cicadas are very rare, a team at the Field will try to sequence its DNA to learn more about the genes giving it its distinctive eyes. It will also be on display during Meet a Scientist events throughout the spring and summer that are cicada-themed. 

Any citizen scientists lucky enough to spot one of these blue-eyed cicadas are encouraged to photograph and upload it to the Cicada Safari app (on Apple and Google) and iNaturalist.

[Related: This gnarly fungus makes cicadas hypersexual.]

Since earlier this spring, trillions of chirpy periodical cicadas have emerged from under the ground in a rare double emergence event. These specific types of cicadas crawl out from below the ground every 13 or 17 years and can make as much noise as a jet engine. This type of overlap is also incredibly rare and has not occurred since 1803, when Thomas Jefferson was president and had just purchased the Louisiana Territory from France.

During these emergences, cicadas come up from underground to mate for several weeks and then die. The males send out their mating song by vibrating the small flaps on their abdomen called tymbals. Females will respond by flicking their wings. Eggs will be laid in trees and the hatchlings will burrow under the ground, beginning the whole process over again.