Meet the insect named after the Okanagan | iNFOnews

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A member of the genus Okanagana.

Photo credit: SUBMITTED: Darren Copley

February 20, 2021 – 10:30 a.m.

They are rather clumsy fliers and spend most of their lives underground. While their name is generally only used by scientists, the Okanagan Valley has its own family of insects named after it.

Their generic name is Okanagana, but they are commonly known as cicadas.

Often described as the sound of summer, there is no escaping the buzz of insects on a hot July and August evening.

While the sound they make is very recognizable, the scientific name Okanagana has never become a common term.

As with all things insect related, there is not just one Okanagana cicada, and the word Okanagana actually refers to the species of insect. There are more than 60 species in the genus Okanagana in North America, mainly in the USA, but also here in the Okanagan Valley.

The Royal BC Museum’s collection lists three species of Okanagana that live in the Okanagan Valley – Okanagana bella, Okanagana occidentalis, and Okanagana rimosa. In BC there are nine species of cicadas from two genera – the Okanagana and the Platypedia. The genus Platypedia lives on the coast and sounds very different from the genus Okanagana.

While the names sound fancy, even scientists admit that they all look the same to the naked eye.

Stuart Brown, owner of The Bug Guys Pets and Exotics in Lake Country, said Okanagana prefers ponderosa pines and lives on hot and dry slopes, with Ellison and Kalamalka provincial parks being very popular places to find them in the summer.

Brown said Okanagana lived underground their lives at a larval stage that could last up to four years. They then develop wings and go to live in the pines. Then the males make a noise.

“They’re calling for a partner … trying to get a woman to go to the place,” Brown said.

Their above-ground life does not last long and they only have about a month before they are eaten by something larger.

Brown said Okanagana was about an inch tall without the wings and completely harmless.

“You look very strange,” said Brown. “They are very bull-headed, so their heads are very wide and then their abs are shaped to a point … almost like a triangle.”

They’re not very agile either.

“They look very strange when they fly because they’re such a big, bulky animal,” Brown said. “They are definitely clumsy fliers (and) you won’t see them fly too often.”

Why are they called Okanagana when they live coast to coast across North America?

The University of British Columbia, Okanagan, Professor of Biology, Dr. Robert Lalonde said the generic name was founded in 1905 by WL Distant.

Distant used the name Okanagana in an article called “Rhynchotal notes” published in 1905 in the Annals and Magazine of Natural History, London.

While obtaining the actual scientific paper is not an easy task, it is believed that Distant introduced the generic name Okanagana to refer to the region or people of the Okanagan.

According to the British Trust for Entomology, William Lucas Distant was a British entomologist who collected 50,000 insect samples and worked for the British Museum. He traveled widely, according to his obituary, published in The Entomologist Journal in 1922, but there is no mention that he ever came to Canada. The obituary says that cicadas were his favorite group of insects.

So come in the summer, instead of hearing the sound of the cicadas, the residents of the Okanagan Valley can remember hearing the sound of the Okanagana.

Okanagana Bella.

Photo credit: SUBMITTED: Royal BC Museum.

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