Wunderkind’s analytical prowess comparable to people three times his age.

Every midsummer, much of Japan is treated to the sights and piercing sounds of cicadas. These large insects, which are about three inches long, look like little pieces of poo and fly around with all the grace of a fork thrown by a 2-year-old, bumping into walls, buildings, and occasionally my head. Still, they’re loved by kids because they’re kind of stupid and really easy to catch.

▼ Wait about 20 seconds for the sound to really kick in

Another feature of summer in Japan is that kids are given the task of doing an independent study project for their vacation, and this is where our story begins: Eight-year-old Jun Kitayama of Kameoka, Kyoto decided to mix his study with pleasure through his hobby of collecting discarded cicada husks.

He did the same project last year, but is continuing his research in order to compare the results and what he found was beyond anyone’s expectations. It wasn’t just the fact that the third grader managed to gather about 5,000 husks, but he found some disturbing trends overlooked by grown-up experts.

First, in both years the majority of cicadas found in Kyoto City were of the species kumazemi (Cryptotympana facialis). However, this year there were significantly fewer aburazemi (Graptopsaltria nigrofuscata) husks found. Kitayama’s assistant, 62-year-old Joji Nakada of the Kameoka City Global Environment Children’s Village, confirms this is indicative of a yearly decline in the aburazemi population.

More unsettling is that this year, 207 of the 1,370 kumazemi molted shells still had the dead bodies of cicadas inside. Amounting to 15 percent of the insect’s numbers, this suggests an environmental factor was contributing to their demise.

▼ A lucky surviving cicada freshly emerged and standing on its larval husk

Kitayama postulates that it was the recent heatwave that may have caused the deaths, but being the professional he is, he realizes that more research is needed for more conclusive results.

Netizens were amazed at the youngster’s tenacity and discipline to uncover such results for a project that many kids just spend by growing mold on bread or turning a plastic bottle into a rocket.

“His investigative skill is the real deal!”
“Th-That was just his summer project?!”
“He will be an excellent scholar.”
“Super elementary student.”
“Maybe he will be the next Jean-Henri Fabre.”

Nakada agreed, saying that Kitayama’s “seriousness towards fieldwork is on par with a university student’s.” He added that Kitayama took detailed notes on where he found each of the thousands of husks, noting nearby tree features and thinking critically about his own findings.

Kitayama shows no signs of tiring either, telling media he wants to continue his work and that the next step is to take measurements of the sizes among the husks over the years in search of trends.

“I think the high temperatures are affecting them,” he told Kyoto Shimbun, “I want to uncover the mystery behind the shrinking cicada population.”

It’s a great example of how sometimes just letting a child follow their core interests can lead to more fruitful education than any rigidly predetermined curriculum. It’s almost as if the country with the highest rated education and Nobel Prize Laureate were onto something.

Source: Kyoto Shimbun, Hachima Kiko
Top image: Wikipedia/Totti
Insert image: Wikipedia/Takuma-sa