Magicicada have bright red eyes, black bodies, and large translucent wings with orange veins. They are scary looking. But they’re not harmful to humans, and they won’t eat the vegetables in your garden. They appear only rarely—every 13 or 17 years—and make a very loud sound when they do (the males form choruses in the trees to serenade the females). And, there’s tens of millions of them coming your way very soon.
Brood II, which is native to the East Coast, has a lifecycle of 17 years. The "periodic" cicadas normally live underground, near trees. But this spring they’re scheduled to emerge into the bright light, to briefly find a mate, before dying off again sometime in July or August. We know they’re coming in the next few weeks—but not exactly when. Which is why WNYC wants citizen scientists to track the great unfurling.
WNYC’s Cicada Tracker project asks volunteers to build simple temperature detection units, and place them eight inches below the ground. When the soil reaches 64 degrees, according to previous years, the Magicicada will start appearing. WNYC wants people to send in readings from across the region, so it can follow the insects’ progress.
To build the sensor, all you need is $80, and a little patience. The components, including an Arduino board and a few leads, are available from Radio Shack, or online. And WNYC’s website includes easy-to-follow 29-step instructions. Apparently, it should take about two hours to assemble.
The project is led by John Keefe , from the station’s data team, who spoke about the possibilities of citizen science/journalism recently at SXSW. He told the Nieman Journalism Lab this week that WNYC is also interested in monitoring air quality and noise pollution in the city, and that the insect project is a test case. If so, the Magicicada’s impact could last beyond the summer.