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The Cicadas Are Coming! Crowdsourcing An Underground Movement

Filed by KOSU News in Science.
March 23, 2013

Back in 1996, a group of baby cicadas burrowed into soils in the eastern U.S. to lead a quiet life of constant darkness and a diet of roots. Now at the ripe age of 17, those little cicadas are all grown up and it’s time to molt, procreate and die while annoying a few million humans with their constant chirping in the process.

We know that when 8 inches below the surfaces reaches 64 degrees F those little buggers will be everywhere, but we don’t know when that’ll be. That’s why WNYC is asking “armchair scientists, lovers of nature and DIY makers” for your help to predict the emergence of cicadas.

Here’s what to do: Go to WYNC’s website and follow the directions to create your own temperature sensor. When things start to warm up, report your temperature findings to the station. As the results come in, WNYC will map out the findings and share them online.

The detector costs around $80 in parts and will take about two hours to build. WNYC advises to have it in the ground by mid-April when the first cicadas are likely to break out of the ground. If you don’t have the time, the money or the patience, you can always just buy an $8 soil temperature sensor.

If you’ve never experience a cicadapocalypse, expect to see an increased number of large, winged creatures in the eastern part of the country. Cicadas can grow up to 1 1/2 inches and have these creepy, red eyes on either side of their heads, but that’s all they’ve got going for them. Though they look scary, cicadas couldn’t hurt a fly (unless they sat on it, maybe). They don’t bite, sting, raid crops or infest homes.

“They’re bumbling cute,” Jody Gangloff-Kaufmann, an urban entomologist and senior extension associate at Cornell University, tells WNYC. “Many people are afraid of them because of their size and the way they make noise. But, they can’t bite you or sting you or hurt you in any way.”

Really, the craziest things they do is live underground as long as they do and make that incessant sound that so many Easterners associate with summer.

A chart on the Cicadia Mania site shows whether they’re coming to your state this spring.

Lizzy Duffy is an intern with NPR’s Social Media Desk. [Copyright 2013 NPR]

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