Cicada Confidential: Declassified

This post is part of a series of posts featuring the stories from our STEM Story Project.

What is it like to emerge after 17 years alone underground? That’s the life of billions of periodical cicadas that emerged up and down the East Coast earlier this summer — the only place in the world where periodical cicadas live.

Producer Louisa Jonas’ Cicada Confidential expounds on the emergence of periodical cicadas. The piece is told from the perspective of the relatively quiet female cicada, often overshadowed in the press by stories of the raucous singing of the impetuous males. We get in the head of the female as she sees light for the first time, has sex after almost two decades of waiting, and meets her inevitable demise.

Lean in and listen:

We asked Louisa what it was like to work on this project:

“It was a good lesson in aiming for creativity while being expedient. My favorite thing was driving around New York and New Jersey on a cicada hunt […] Not all of that audio ended up in the piece, but things are going well when you have too much good tape.”

In addition to wanting to educate her audience about periodical cicadas, Louisa also has a personal connection to these creatures.

“I tried to channel my thirteen-year-old self when I first encountered millions of cicadas and one got tangled in my hair […] I kept that in mind, thinking about what my audience might first feel in hearing a story about a cascade of insects. Not everyone loves them, but I was hoping to show how admirable these creatures are.”

Louisa sent us a brood map that documents where Brood II of magicicada emerged this year along the East Coast. (Click for a more detailed, interactive version.)

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Listen to all the other PRX STEM Story Project pieces.

This piece has aired on WTIP, Radio Newark, WNPR, RadioFreePalmer, WTJU and KZYX.

6 thoughts on “Cicada Confidential: Declassified”

  1. Great story. I had no idea what all the fuss was about when I heard those cicadas swarming around. Thanks for letting us know.

  2. I want to know more! I have been in at least 4 conversations [read “debates”] in the past 6 months about when and in what season Cicadas come out, how many types there are, etc. I have cicadas in my psyche. Child memories of holding them in my hand and scaring people with them, crunching across carpets of them in the streets, and of wearing them like ornate and elegant brooches. Now, I live in DC along the river and sometimes, when they’re out in full force, it’s too loud to comfortably hold conversations outside. An amazing phenomenon.

  3. They are driving me nuts! We are having unusually cool temps here in the St. Louis metro area. Windows open and those things are driving me crazy!!!! I’m ready for them to go away for another 10 or more years! 🙂

  4. Monica,

    Thanks for listening and for your comment! The main difference in cicadas is that there are annual cicadas which come out every year and are larger than the periodical cicadas. The periodical cicadas come out every 13 or 17 years based on the Brood (I like to think of Broods as graduating classes!)

    There are 18 Broods of periodical cicadas. Here’s a link to when each brood comes out and where they emerge:

    Glad to hear you liked them as a kid. I was mortified when I first encountered then at 13, but learned to love them when they emerged in 2004.

    Which end of the debates were you on? 🙂


  5. Sherry,

    You’re not alone in your distaste for the critters! If they are annual cicadas, they’ll be back to bug you next summer. But if they’re periodical cicadas, you won’t have to be bothered for them for another 13 or 17 years!

    Thanks for the comment.


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