Swarmsourcing: Asking the Crowd to Predict the Cicadas’ Emergence

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERACicadas are known for three things: the shrill buzz of their song, their remarkable size, and their extraordinary 17-year lifecycle. The North American Magicicada spend the majority of their life (seventeen years) underground as nymphs, but in their seventeenth year, when the ground is 64°F eight inches beneath the surface, the cicada emerges aboveground to breed and feed. It will take a week before the cicadas shed their last skin and finally become adults.

Another remarkable aspect of the cicada is how little we know about them and how hard their behavior is to predict – especially when they’ll arrive and we can begin observing them in earnest. So now, WNYC in New York is inviting “armchair scientists” from the Northeast to help anticipate their arrival.

WNYC’s project site invites people to build their own homemade sensors (about $80 in parts and two hours to build) or buy one (for less than $8) and report in results. As long as the readings can start coming in by mid-April, then the readings will be helpful. People simply log in to the site, input their results, and mark down their exact address so that experts can analyze the map of information and hopefully better predict cicada activity.

The great thing about this project is how well it empowers the crowd to participate in a subject that they might care about by making it seem easy. A ground temperature reader that I can either build or order for less than $8 makes it seem like there’s no reason NOT to participate if I love things like BBC’s Planet Earth or even simply looking for an extra project for a high school biology class.

Are you excited to hear the song of between one million to five million in your acre of backyard? What are some other exciting amateur backyard crowdsourcing projects?

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