The Sound of Crickets: Using Evidence-Based Reasoning to Measure Temperature Using Cricket Chirps

By Larsen, James L.; LeMone, Peggy | The Science Teacher, November 2009 | Go to article overview

The Sound of Crickets: Using Evidence-Based Reasoning to Measure Temperature Using Cricket Chirps


Larsen, James L., LeMone, Peggy, The Science Teacher


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Open the door, let them out.

--Nobel Laureate Freeman Dyson, advice to a young science teacher

All too often our science classes take place entirely behind classroom walls, with few opportunities for students to directly experience nature. In the modern world of computers and video entertainment, students spend little time outdoors, a phenomenon described by author Richard Louv as "nature deficit disorder" (Louv 2008). As a result, some have less experience to draw upon as they try to evaluate claims and counterclaims in the media and public discourse.

With the range of conflicting ideas about issues such as climate change and global warming, it has never been more important to "open the door, and let our students out" to evaluate the validity of such claims by observing nature, collecting data, and providing evidence. The good news is it has never been easier for students to gather and share data using the internet and programs such as Global Learning and Observations to Benefit the Environment (GLOBE) (see "About the GLOBE program"). This article presents one GLOBE scientist's investigation of cricket chirping and its relation to temperature--which demonstrates the importance of gathering data and interpreting evidence for ourselves.

Cricket chirps and temperature

Humans have always been fascinated by crickets. From ancient cave drawings to Charles Dickens to Disney, crickets have long been a part of our art, folklore, and culture. There are about 900 species of crickets, which are members of the family Bryllidae. The nocturnal songs of house and field crickets can be heard in most locations throughout the United States. The familiar "chirp" sound is produced by male crickets to attract females and repel other males, and can be heard by other crickets due to tympanic membranes located just below the middle joint of each front leg. It was this chirping that became the focus of an investigation by Peggy LeMone, former chief scientist for the GLOBE program.

Consider a statement about crickets that you may have heard or read: You can use cricket chirps to measure temperature. How does a scientist go about determining if this claim is true, or a myth based on pseudoscience? When LeMone heard this statement, she was a bit skeptical about its accuracy, so she set out to see for herself if there was any evidence to support it. In one of her entries on the GLOBE Scientists' Blog (2007), LeMone documents how stepping outside and observing nature allows us to collect our own evidence, or at least look with a more practiced eye at the data others have collected to determine if a claim has any basis. Her experience outside helps her direct her efforts to uncover if the claim is true, and provides an interesting example of scientific inquiry.

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Testing the claim

The following excerpts have been adapted from LeMone's GLOBE Scientists' Blog (2007). This posting describes her investigation and her use of evidence to determine whether crickets really can tell temperature (Editor's Note: The source of this material and the accompanying figures is the GLOBE website at www.globe. gov. All Rights Reserved.):

Did you know that you could count cricket chirps to estimate temperature? I heard this a number of years ago, but never thought much about it until I heard it mentioned on television this summer. Was this true, or just an urban myth? I decided to go outside and see for myself.

In August, I started listening to crickets. I estimated the "cricket temperature" from the first formula I found on the web:

Cricket temperature = number of chirps in 15 seconds + 37

The original formula LeMone found was in degrees Fahrenheit. She needed to see if this worked before she could use the data to derive the formula in degrees Celsius.

I measured the actual temperature by taking the average from two thermometers. …

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