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April 22, 2024 8 mins

As we prepare for the historic emergence of two broods of cicadas, we unearth the story of the often forgotten woman behind a key cicada discovery.

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Speaker 1 (00:05):
Hey, this is Anny and welcome to Steff whenever told you
a prediction of iHeartRadio. And yes I'm still above myself.
But Samantha is probably happy about that. For this one,
because I am talking about cicados once again. It's gonna

(00:29):
be a bit of a shorter episode, but I did
really want to find a way to talk about them,
and I think we're going to try to find another
way to talk about them if anybody knows women in
entomology would like to talk with us. So yeah, as
you've probably heard, perhaps from me for the first time

(00:51):
since the eighteen hundreds, two broods of cicadas are going
to emerge in the US. At the same time, it's
being called all kinds of things like cicada apocalyps. People
are freaking out about it on TV. I'm interested. I
don't think at Lanta, which is where we are, is

(01:13):
gonna get the brunt of it. We're gonna get some,
but I'm interested to see how loud it's going to be,
especially as someone who records audio from home. I was
determined to find a feminist topic to talk about with
this and find it. I did, as I've said previously,
fascinated with the science of cicadas, and it was one

(01:35):
of the first podcast episodes I ever edited was about cicadas. So,
all right, if you've heard the loud, humming, buzzing, chirping
of cicadas, you know that it is a culmination of
several sounds that are occurring at the same time. This
is the result of different sounds made by different species

(01:56):
of cicadas. For a long time we didn't know, though.
Inter entomologist Margaretta Harre Morris in the early nineteenth century.
Ever since she was a teenager, she had studied cicadas
when they would come out, and in eighteen seventeen she
heard one song, and in eighteen thirty four she heard

(02:17):
a different one. In eighteen forty six, at the age
of forty nine, she publicly voiced her opinion that she
had discovered a news species of cicada. This was in
part due to some digging that she'd done that unearthed
cicada larvae a whole five years before they were set
to emerge. They were sucking at the roots of trees,

(02:39):
which was a pretty big discovery in terms of how
cicada survived underground. Four seventeen years in itself, at the time,
but on top of that, she realized some were significantly
smaller than others. So that very year she wrote up
her findings in a report she sent off to the

(03:00):
Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia, asserting that she was
quote inclined to believe that there are two species differing
sufficiently in size. She even wrote descriptions describing the different
sounds that they made. The larger ones were more sluggish
and made a sound like bahoo. The smaller ones, on

(03:22):
the other hand, were very active. Their song quote sharp
and shrill, like the noise made by the loom of
a stocking weaver. These are yea fa ru was a
quote also, by the way, Because she wasn't a member
of this academy, though, she had to enlist a male

(03:42):
scientist to present her paper and supporting specimens to them.
As you can imagine, they were dismissive. But she didn't
give up. She submitted and published articles about her findings
to publications across the country. She invited scientists to visit
her garden to see for themselves what she was talking about.

(04:03):
Through these efforts, she built up an army of supporters
of her theory in eighteen fifty she was one of
the first women ever to be elected to the American
Association for the Advancements of Science. So yeah, I mean basically,
she impressed largely these dudes who were in control with

(04:26):
her methods and her dedication and all of the work
she had done. But of course she has largely been forgotten.
One of the main reasons for that has to do
with the years between the emergence of broods of cicadas.

(04:48):
After the next emergence of cicada's post Morris's publications, in
eighteen fifty one, two male scientists who had read her
work announced that they had discovered a new PCs of
cicada that was smaller and thriller. So yes, exactly what
she said, and they named it after themselves, which is frustrating.

(05:10):
And this is especially bad in terms of the lack
of women entomologists at that time and now. So like
every time you're reading about cicadas or talking about cicadas,
you see remnants of these two men who named the
cicadas after themselves. But here was Morris who had done

(05:36):
this work. It's documented. I think people in the field
know who she is, But for people who don't you
see their names, not hers, and associate them with this
discovery and not hers. And as we talked about on
our recent celebration with Eves of our fiftieth Female First,

(05:58):
that it does inspire people when you see when you're
young and you're like, oh, so I can do that too.
But she was sort of removed from the picture unless
you looked deeper, which it wasn't hard to find her.
So again, it's not like she doesn't exist, but she's

(06:21):
not the first thing you will find at all. And
on top of that, as we also discussed in that
episode of Female First, it's you know, I don't know,
but I was reading this and I was thinking, like, who,
who else maybe had made this discovery outside of Morris

(06:43):
and didn't get any credit. It's entirely possible she wasn't
the first either, but certainly it wasn't the two dudes
to get credit for it. But yeah, I would. You
can look up more about this. I'm hoping to return

(07:05):
to another cicada based topic for listeners. If you are
in I believe it's like Chicagos, certain areas of the Midwest,
we're really going to get all these cicadas. Let us
know how it goes, how you're feeling, Yeah, because I'm
very interested to see how this is going to play out.

(07:27):
But I hope that now our listeners will think of Morris,
who was just curious about cicadas and did our own research.
It seems like just from a very passionate, interested, scientific place,
she was just really intrigued by this, which I can

(07:49):
relate to. But yes, listeners, if you would like to
contact us, you can our email Stephanie Momsteff at iHeartMedia
dot com. You can find is on Twitter at most
of a podcast, or on Instagram and TikTok that's stuff
I've never told you. You can also find us on YouTube.
We have a tea public store, and we have a
book you can get wherever you get your books. Thanks

(08:10):
as always too, our super producer Christina, our executive producer Maya,
and our contributor Joey. And thanks to you for listening.
Steffan never told you his direction of I Heart Radio.
For more podcasts from my Heart Radio, you can check
out the heart Radio app Apple Podcasts wherever you listen
to your favorite shows.

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