Tracking cicadas with Radiolab and an Arduino


Once every 17 years, a population of cicadas ranging from Connecticut to the Appalachian highlands of North Carolina emerges to annoy everyone within earshot. The last time east coasters saw this brood was in 1996, making 2013 yet another year of annoying insect pests. The only question is, when will we start to see this year’s cicada brood?

Radiolab, the awesome podcast and public radio show, has put together an awesome project that asks listeners to track when the cicadas in their area will emerge. Cicadas generally enter their loud and obnoxious adult stage when the ground temperature 8 inches below the surface reaches 64º F. Armed with an Arduino, thermistor, and a few wires and resistors, any Radiolab listener can upload soil temperature data to Radiolab servers where all the data will be correlated with documented cicada sightings.

After following the page’s instructions for wiring up a bunch of LEDs and a thermistor to an Arduino, just upload the most well-commented code we’ve ever seen and go outside to take soil temperature measurements. The temperature is displayed in a pseudo-binary format on nine LEDs. To decode the temperature without counting by powers of two, Radiolab has an online decoder that also allows you to upload your data and location.