Olly Hills and his cicadas.

ParentsMarch 24, 2018

The New Zealand insect expert and author, aged 10

Olly Hills and his cicadas.

Olly Hills couldn’t find a field guide to native New Zealand cicadas, so he decided to fill the gap in our biological literature. Angela Cuming caught up with the young biologist to talk about his first book.

The idea for Cicadas of New Zealand came to Olly Hills the same way many other authors stumble onto theirs – he couldn’t find the book he wanted, so he wrote it himself. What makes Cicadas of New Zealand so extraordinary is that the author is only 10 years old.

”I know most other kids aren’t as interested in insects as I am, but this doesn’t make me think that insects are any less cool,” he says. ”I really like the fact that only children can hear the high-pitched cicadas, I think this makes people who can find these cicadas special.”

Olly lives in Hamilton, in a house backing onto a ”cool gully”, perfect for cicada hunting. He was inspired when he couldn’t find a book to help him identify cicadas he was saw – all the books he found on insects only dedicated a couple of pages at the most to cicadas, “which just wasn’t enough detail for me”.

So the cicada enthusiast set about writing his own field guide. The book begins with a general information section that discusses cicadas, their life cycle and anatomical features. The main part of the book is a field guide to the 42 different cicadas in New Zealand.

When you can’t find what you want to read, write it yourself, says Olly.

The book took more than a year for Olly to research and write. ”I started at the start of last summer, and tried to find as many cicadas as possible,” he says. ”There were a few extra cicadas that I managed to find at the start of this summer and photographs are included in the book. I’m currently working on a second edition which includes cicada photographs from a trip I did down to the South Island over summer.”

The finished product is now the only field guide to New Zealand’s cicadas that has ever been published.

”Most New Zealand insect books have a couple of pages about cicadas in them,” say Olly. ”Otherwise, G.V Hudson published a supplement to his book on glow worms and butterflies back in 1950 that included a section on cicadas, but our understanding of the different species has changed hugely since then.”

Olly’s love of animals – including insects – goes beyond cicadas. Among his other pets are two frogs, two chickens, two rabbits and several praying mantis.

”I’m most interested in insects but also in birds too,” he says. ”We have some cool giant bush dragonflies around our place, as well as lots of native birds.”

Olly keeps busy with other environmental pursuits too, heading out to regular working bees with the Riverlea Environmental Society and keeping up active membership of the Kiwi Conservation Club.

Olly Hill at the launch of Cicadas of New Zealand.

”It’s cool to see that there are some plants that I planted when I was really young that are growing well,” he says.

Olly describes his ideal day as finally being able to track down the elusive Iolanthe cicada. He’s been looking for a year and has never found one.

”Iolanthe cicadas are found over much of the North Island, but not in large numbers,” he says. “I think I’ve heard one, but just haven’t managed to catch one yet. They are mostly an early season cicada so I’ll most likely have to wait until the start of next summer to start looking again. They like areas with bare soil, and manuka, so I’m often looking out for areas like this.”

Does Olly have any advice for any budding authors out there?

”Writing a book takes a whole lot longer than you think it will,” he says. ”We thought it would take a few months to write, but it ended up taking over a year.

”But the cool thing about self publishing is that anyone can do it. This book was written in Word, with photographs taken with a cell phone camera, and printed locally. Just be prepared for the formatting to take a really long time to do.”

Next on Olly’s schedule will be to give a talk at the Entomological Society Conference in Wanganui in April.

”I’m looking forward to meeting lots of other people who are really keen on insects. There is the second edition of the cicada book that I’m working on, and I’m doing some research on a hybrid cicada that I’m hoping to present at the School Science Fair this year.”

You can buy Cicadas of New Zealand online here, on Trade Me or on Fishpond. Olly also runs the Cicadas of NZ Facebook page.

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