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Cicadas Have Emerged in Wyoming This Year To Throw Predators Off, Entomologists Say

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

It was last year when the 17-year periodic cicadas emerged from their cocoons and annoyed many (at least on the eastern portion of the country) with their constant buzzing.

So, if these bugs emerge only once every two decades, why are we hearing them at night in Wyoming this year?

According to University of Wyoming professor and entomologist Scott Schell, cicadas are emerging right now because they are trying to keep predators from tracking their life cycles. The state actually is not home to the long-living cicadas that emerge once every 10-plus years.

“The various cicada species that have been emerging in noticeable numbers in various parts of the state are mainly the proto-periodic species,” Schell said. “It is thought they have random mass emergences so their predator’s populations can’t track and depend on them.”

There are more than 20 species of cicada in Wyoming. They usually live anywhere from two to five years and are typically found in sagebrush, grassland and shrubby areas.

“Like most insects their maturation has to do with degree day accumulation, meaning that temperatures above a certain threshold allow for faster growth to adulthood,” Schell said.

While they are quite easy for most people to hear, especially in the evening, they are much harder to spot.

Schell said there are three different life cycles for cicadas: annual (which is self-explanatory), periodical (ones that emerge together after a long period of time, such as the 17-year Magicicada species) and proto-periodical, which is what Wyomingites are hearing this summer.

The two largest cicada species in the state are the giant grassland cicada and dog-day cicada. Both insects are close to two inches long with wingspans of over four inches, according to previous writings by Schell.

According to Wyoming outdoors writer Amber Travsky, cicadas don’t bite, sting or otherwise attack humans. They also do not eat plants or flowers, but instead subside on sap from trees and shrubs.

The Environmental Protection Agency said cicadas actually provide some environmental benefits, such as being valuable food sources for birds and other predators, aerating lawns and improving water filtration into the ground and adding nutrients to the soil as they decompose.

Pesticides are also ineffective against them, the EPA said. Plus, since so many emerge at the same time, the ones killed by pesticides will just be replaced with new cicadas.

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Why Are Wolverines In Wyoming So Elusive? There Are Only 6 (Maybe)

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Over the weekend, a tour group got the opportunity of a lifetime when they encountered a wolverine out in the wild of Yellowstone National Park.

Wildlife experts say such sightings are extremely rare, with last weekend’s observation in Yellowstone being only the eighth reported in the last 15 years.

Sightings are so unusual, according to Wyoming Game and Fish Biologist Zack Walker, because there appear to be very few wolverines in the state.

“During our last monitoring efforts five years ago, we know we had at least six individual wolverine, but there are likely more,” Walker told Cowboy State Daily on Wednesday. “But that’s the minimum number we know of.”

The department is again monitoring the wolverine population this year, and Walker said that so far, there appear to have been more wolverines detected than in 2017. He didn’t have exact numbers, but he said it seems the monitoring efforts are more successful this year.

Wyoming is not alone in having low wolverine numbers. The entire species nearly went extinct in the 1920s in the lower 48 states because of unregulated harvesting, habitat loss and broad-scale carnivore poisoning, according to the Game and Fish department.

“They’ve been naturally trickling back into the state over the years, reoccupying new areas,” Walker said. “The other part of why they’re so rare to see is because they’re really solitary animals. They have very large home ranges and they’re spaced out across the landscape. Life history has made it so you never really have any congregations of them in one place.”

Event Of A Lifetime

MacNeil Lyons, who runs the Yellowstone Insight tour group, was astounded when he saw the wolverine in Yellowstone over the weekend.

“I’ve worked in Yellowstone for almost 22 years, and over the course of that time, I’ve been very fortunate to have seen some very unique, amazing, wild moments,” Lyons told Cowboy State Daily on Tuesday. “But the only wolverine I’ve seen, before Saturday, was through binoculars at a great distance.”

Lyons compared the wolverine sighting to seeing a unicorn in the park. While he would be happy for more wolverine sightings to occur, he does not necessarily expect to see one again in his lifetime.

“I like to go to work with a pocketful of optimism and a smile on my face,” he said. “You never know what could be around the corner. It’s highly unlikely we will see another one, but it just shows you’ve got to keep coming back to the park. Patience, practice and persistence pays off.”

Wolverines are generally not dangerous to humans, unless they are backed into a corner and are desperate.

They are the largest mammal in the weasel family, and while they are similar to badgers, they tend to scavenge more than their temperamental family members.

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$3.8 Million Wildlife Crossing Being Constructed Over I-25 Between Buffalo & Kaycee

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By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily

A $3.8 million crossing path for Wyoming’s wildlife is being built between Buffalo and Kaycee as part of a statewide master plan to reduce collisions between wildlife and vehicles.

The state Wyoming Department of Transportation and Game and Fish Department are working together to reduce the collisions between wildlife and vehicles that number in the thousands every year, said Luke Reiner, director of WYDOT.

“We all know that when we travel Wyoming roads, we don’t like vehicles to bump into wildlife,” Reiner told Cowboy State Daily. “And it happens way too often – over 6,000 times a year in our state. And that’s just 6,000 times too many.”

This particular wildlife crossing project will use existing underpasses and high fencing on a 15-mile stretch of I-25 to funnel wildlife through to the other side of the interstate, reducing accidents with mule deer and white-tailed deer.

“These deer are essentially using the median of the interstate as habitat,” said Cheyenne Stewart, Sheridan Region wildlife coordinator for the Game and Fish Department. “But because we have these existing underpasses, because it’s not a major migratory area, the idea came that we could just put high fences along the interstate, funnel the animals through the existing underpasses and not have to build overpasses and underpasses, which is a lot more expensive.”

This more affordable option should address the danger and continue to allow some movement by the deer across the interstate, according to Sara DiRienzo, public information officer for the Wyoming Game and Fish Department.

“Any roadway project is really expensive,” said DiRienzo. “But this is considered one of the more affordable ones because it utilizes those existing structures.”

According to data collected by WYDOT in 2018, an average of 1,841 vehicles passed through that 70 mile stretch each day. And an estimated 57 vehicles collide with deer every year as the animals try to cross the interstate at that point.

“So when this project is all in place, we anticipate that it will reduce collisions with wildlife up to 80%,” said DiRienzo. “And that’s really valuable. It saves drivers money, it saves the state money, and of course, saves wildlife lives.”

She pointed out the Buffalo/Kaycee project was given the go-ahead now because of its affordability.

“This one rose to the top of the list,” DiRienzo said, “because not only does it have one of the most high-collision rates with wildlife in our state, but also it’s one of the most easily attainable projects because of the existing structures, and everything that we have learned about the movements of wildlife on that road. So $3.8 million goes a really long way on that stretch.”

Stewart, who moved to Buffalo a few years ago, has personal experience dodging wildlife on that stretch of highway.

“The last bit of stretch from driving anywhere is from Kaycee to Buffalo,” she said. “And it’s the most stressful part of the drive because it’s probably getting dark, and you’re probably a little tired. And you’re seeing deer and you’re just wondering, which is the one that’s going to run out in front of my vehicle?”

Support for the project came from 17 different funding sources, including partners, local government and donations from the public.  

“It’s truly a Wyoming success story,” Reiner noted, “of identifying something we really care about – wildlife – pairing it with transportation, which we all have to do – you’ve got to go from point A to point B, but you want to do it as safely as you can – and come up with a solution where everybody participates.”

DiRienzo said the project should go out for bid in February, with a plan for construction to begin in the spring.

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