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Swarmageddon: Join Our DIY Cicada-Tracking Events!

Help Radiolab predict the emergence of 17-year cicadas

Monday, April 01, 2013 - 04:00 AM

Bursting broods of bugs and ... beer?

Believe it!

The 17-year cicadas are coming, and Radiolab is inviting armchair scientists, lovers of nature and DIY makers to help predict the emergence of cicadas by building a homemade sensor and sharing your observations.

For makers in the New York City area, we'll help you build a "cicada detector" soil thermometer and serve up a free beer, Monday, April 8 at the Brooklyn Brewery. Radiolab's Jad Abumrad will be there, along with staff from the show and the WNYC Data News Team. The event is free, but reservations are required.

The following weekend, we'll build more detectors (sans beer, or Jad) at The New York Hall of Science. Join us at 12 noon, 1 p.m. or 2 p.m. on Sunday, April 14. Space is limited, but both the event and detector are free with museum admission

If you can't make it to these, or any of the other planned events, you can use these step-by-step instructions to build a detector at home from parts you can buy online or at a local electronics store. (Or you can nab a basic soil thermometer.)

Then, report your readings. The more reports we get, the better we'll be able to watch for the cicadas' arrival. And once the swarming begins, we'll want your observations then, too! 




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Comments [24]

Toni charlton from Yonkers ny

Will the cicadas be in westchester my I'm very scared

Jun. 01 2013 06:36 PM
donna from Long Island

What exactly will the kids be building at the NY Hall of Science? How involved will it be? We will be giving up something fairly important in order to attend this, so I want to make sure it will be worth the trip. My son loves science experiments and I thought he might really like this. How do we preregister?

Apr. 13 2013 04:42 PM
davidhrosen from Long Island

No, wait! Now Newsday reports that Brood II will not be seen on Long Island. Is that right?

Apr. 12 2013 04:15 PM
davidhrosen from Long Island

Our soil thermometers have been ordered. How often should we report our findings?

Apr. 10 2013 11:56 AM
Henryk Behnke, Staten Island Museum from Staten Island, NY

Find out more about the 17-year Cicada at the trusted source for everything cicada since 1881: the Staten Island Museum, which holds the largest Cicada Collection in North America, second in the world only to that of the British Museum.
Explore the exhibit and join one of the programs in May and June. For questions about cicadas contact Ed Johnson, Director of Science at (718) 727-1135 or by email at

Apr. 04 2013 03:50 PM
Guan Yang from Hack Manhattan

Wes: Any reasonable thermistor will work. I'd recommend something in the range of 47K to 100K (which is the nominal temperature at 25 degrees Celcius), and with a datasheet that indicates the B parameter. And use a high precision pullup resistor with roughly the same value.

For the kits we used MF52C1503F3950 from Cantherm because it has nice long wire leads, but I see now that they're out of stock from Digi-Key.

3D printing vendors are not a bad source of thermistors. Here's a 100K one:
You would need to do a little work to insulate the leads, for example with electrical tape or liquid electrical tape.

If you bring in whatever you come up with to the Hack Manhattan event on April 13th we can help you put it together.

Apr. 03 2013 02:33 PM
Simon Siu from North Jersey

I would love to join this Monday April 8th but I unfortunately there are no more tickets available! Is there any other way to volunteer/help?

Apr. 02 2013 11:52 PM
Matt from Chelsea

Are there cicadas in Manhattan? All over Manhatttan?

Apr. 02 2013 09:08 PM
Bill Amann from Somerset County, NJ

I don't care about the cicadas. I worry about the cicada killer wasps. I have had literally hundreds of those things on my property for several weeks during the past few years. And they are huge, scary looking wasps.

Apr. 02 2013 06:44 PM
Wes Beeler from Connecticut

Thank you Guan, but where can I buy the correct one without buying the kit?

Apr. 02 2013 05:21 PM
Margaret from Westchester

@ chris
If I sorted the data base correctly, I see no activity recorded for Breed 2 in Westchester county. Is that correct? Not sure if I am relieved or disappointed!

Apr. 02 2013 05:10 PM
John Keefe / WNYC

Chirs: Thanks so much for your post! We'll be updating our map soon!

Apr. 02 2013 03:59 PM
John Keefe / WNYC

Kevin: You can absolutely just use a soil thermometer and report in your findings that way -- as long as it takes a reading 8 inches down. We think the detectors are a fun way to get into experimenting with open-sourced hardware, and we imagine that one day we'll have folks help us measure other things that could feed a data-driven piece of journalism.

Apr. 02 2013 03:58 PM
Kevin from New York City

I'm confused about the advantage of building the detector. They look like fun to put together, but don't they provide less data than a soil thermometer (that reads to tenths of a degree)? I'm excited to participate, just want to make sure I'm not missing something here...

Apr. 02 2013 10:48 AM
Guan Yang from Hack Manhattan

Wes: That thermistor has a very low resistance and is unsuitable. I don’t think it’s meant to measure temperature, it’s for surge protection.

Apr. 02 2013 09:25 AM
Wes Beeler from Connecticut

I am looking for the same thermistor separately and can't find it. Would this one work?


Apr. 01 2013 08:33 PM
Guan Yang from Manhattan

emily!: The materials will be provided. They’ll be free at the Brooklyn Brewery event and free with museum admission at the New York Hall of Science. I am an organizer of the Hack Manhattan event on Saturday April 13, and we will charge $25 for the kit. We will be quite busy this weekend putting all the kits together!

Apr. 01 2013 07:56 PM
emily! from brooklyn, ny

Will you be providing the materials to make these or do we need to bring them?

Apr. 01 2013 02:55 PM
Chris Simon from Storrs, CT

Great project! Although the periodical cicadas are expected to come out in late April or early May in North Carolina, they are not expected in the NY metro area until Late May or Early June. See to see a map of the entire emergence with real time crowd sourced reports (probably starting in late April) and to report your sightings; in fact, it would be great if Radiolabs and WNYC could expand your temperature recordings to cover all of Brood II (down to North Georgia); I'm sure your many listeners down there would be just as excited to participate. Remember that the cicadas are very patchy so they won't be everywhere. For example in the North East Staten Island is a good place to see periodical cicadas. There are no records for Manhattan. The last record from the Bronx was in 1911. The cicadas will come out in the Hudson River Valley as far north as Albany. The heaviest emergences of Brood II in NJ are in Passaic, Morris, Bergen, Somerset, Essex, and Union. There are also a few records from Sussex, Middlesex, Hunterdon (in the east only--Brood X is in the west), Monmouth, Burlington, Atlantic, Cumberland and Cape May. In Connecticut the periodical cicadas will appear along the Connecticut River Valley from New Haven north to I-84, mostly west of the Connecticut River--but again, the populations are very patchy due to heavy farming in the 1800's and other development. Have fun!

Apr. 01 2013 02:17 PM
David Reeves from Manhattan

@Wayne and Benvenuto

Hack Manhattan will be holding a cicada detector assembly event on Saturday 13th April at Hack Manhattan (near the 14th St PATH!).

MakerBar in Hoboken ( may also be interested in hosting if you let them know you're interested.

Apr. 01 2013 11:32 AM
Jeanne Tobin from Staten Island, NY

Read any publications by and about William T. Davis, who tracked the Cicadas for many years here on Staten Island and all around the area. There is extensive information on the cycles by him. He was a Staten Islander, original family type, and wrote many papers, books, "Days Afield on Staten Island". Makes a great read about Natural History here in NYC.

Apr. 01 2013 11:07 AM
Jim from Manhattan

This is great... It is fun to learn about cicadas and - I think more importantly - the activity will help New Yorkers remember that natural phenomena are ever present (beyond "charismatic" events like Hurrican Sandy) and that our City is connected to natural cycles. The urban environment is a part of an ecological system on which we all depend.

We face many environmental challenges in the coming years. Becoming more aware of our local environment - the species, cycles, landscapes - will help us to bring the reality of global environmental change home and will hopefully lead to our acting more sustainably individually and collectively.

I applaud this initiative! Thanks!

Apr. 01 2013 11:07 AM
Benvenuto Cellini from Morristown

Agreed! We in New Jersey would love to get involved !! John can we arrange something in my town??

Apr. 01 2013 11:02 AM
Wayne Baker from Cranford, NJ

Hey Guys, where's the love for Jersey? You've scheduled two building events, both east of Manhattan and therefore hard to get to from NJ.

Apr. 01 2013 10:03 AM

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