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.

27 thoughts on “Tracking Cicadas With Radiolab And An Arduino

    1. NTC thermistors are used throughout the Consumer Appliance industry for measuring temperature. Toasters, coffee makers, refrigerators, freezers, hair dryers, etc. all rely on thermistors for proper temperature control. Thermistors are also commonly used in modern digital thermostats and to monitor the temperature of battery packs while charging. NTC thermistors are regularly used in automotive applications. For example, they monitor things like coolant temperature and/or oil temperature inside the engine and provide data to the ECU and, indirectly, to the dashboard.

      All have over night shipping options.
      Else if you have a graybar store on your area, sometimes they have them in stock.

    3. More likely than not, the digital outdoor thermometers that use cord with a sensor at one end, have a thermistor for sensor. Yes much more expensive that getting the component at Radio shack, but one can splice it back together to use it as originally intended. I guess it depend how big a hurry some one is in. AFAIK it’s too late for this cycle.

  1. I remember some of the PC motherboards I’ve purchased came with spare thermistors on a leads ending in female headers, intended to be plugged into the motherboard and shoved into whatever heat sink you want to monitor. So if you’ve ever built your own, check your parts stash first. The thermistor often looks like a tiny capacitor.

    Any cheap digital thermometer for measuring body or ambient temp could contain a thermistor, or perhaps a temperature sensor IC; I’m not sure which the economics currently favor. You might dissect a dollar store purchase and see if you get lucky. Digital thermometers for higher temps (like a BBQ grill) won’t help as they probably use thermocouples exclusively.

    Virtually any semiconductor device (transistors, diodes, LEDs) has temperature-dependent effects that are normally an annoyance, but can be used to sense. Google will turn up plenty on how to use a common bipolar transistor as a temp sensor.

      1. I don’t think so. The ones I’m talking about are in dipped packages with radial leads, resembling a tantalum cap. There are no diodes with that packaging style.

        Maybe you’re thinking of something else, like on-die temp sensors? Or maybe some of the newer positionable sensors use diodes instead. Hard to tell as the paper you linked doesn’t mention motherboards, computers, or anything else relevant to your statement; other than that diodes *can* be used to sense temp (which I already mentioned).

  2. I’ve heard about temp affecting their emergence
    But here in the Piedmont area of NC
    It generally happens in June
    and after we have had
    a good *deep* ground soaking warm rain
    not those flash storm runoff type of rains.
    Locally, it’s starting to get the ground pretty wet
    with some 80 degree(f) days,
    so looks to be building up for the noise fest.

  3. most temperature controlled variable speed fans
    have a resistive temp sensor.
    not all of these speed controllers are internal to the fan!
    look in used (edit: free) computer powersupplys,
    one in ten have a temp-speed controller
    EXTERNAL to the fan,
    usually it is in the main circuitboard of the supply itself

    also ive seen a **_few_*** computers that came with
    temp-speed case fan where the fan itself
    had built in temp-speed controller

    in either case, you can tell by the little green part
    hanging off the circuitboard, looks like small capacitor

    PS: yes i know diodes can sense temp too.
    but (specialty made) resistors are better at it.

  4. The suggest April deployment date for 2013 emergence of topic has passed. No to be super prepared for 2019 emergence, or whatever the next year is for one’s location I do wished radiolab put the step by step into a single page so one can scroll up or down through the steps. A soil temperature monitor that could key a radio when 64 degrees is seen would be great. Encourage the amateur scientists to obtain an amateur radio license, so the unit can place a packet on the APRS network.

  5. Here on the Mediterranean we have cicadas singing each year.
    Saddest thing for me is in September when they stop.

    You Americans are crazy people, why don’t you just love this miracle?

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