A NEW smartphone app that listens for the distinctive call of a highly endangered insect will soon help conservationists in the New Forest find out whether it is extinct or not.
The unusual blend of technology with conservation is part of an experiment to help hunt for the New Forest cicada.
Alex Rogers, a researcher at the Electronics and Computer Science group at the University of Southampton, says that Cicadetta Montana are native to Britain, but have not been spotted or heard in more than a decade.
One possible reason for this is their high-pitched love song is on the very upper limit of an adult human's hearing range, between 13-14 kHz.
He said: “It's so very high pitched you're never quite sure you're hearing it. The average smartphone, on the other hand, is quite capable of picking up such frequencies.”
Mr Rogers and his colleagues are developing software that will turn one of these devices into a portable cicada detector.
Elusive Visitors to the New Forest will be able to download the app and then scour the area holding their phones aloft in search of the elusive creatures.
The app should still work in the background from someone's pocket or bag.
Mr Rogers said: “The app would give people immediate feedback that it thinks that a cicada has been detected.
“It will then ask for their permission to upload the recording to a server so it can be analysed in more detail.
“Rediscovering the New Forest cicada would be quite a big deal so we'd then contact them off-line and investigate the sighting, revisiting to the site to get more recordings.”
Jim Mitchell of New Forest Parks Authority said: “Despite such a long absence there is still good reason to keep looking. One is that they can remain dormant underground for years at a time. They lay their eggs in the stems of trees and shrubs and when the larvae emerge they fall to the ground and live underground, feeding on root sap for years at a time.
“Between 1941 and 1961 there were no sightings at all, so there is still hope.”