Cicada Crunch- Lunch Anyone?

Published 2:54 pm Thursday, May 30, 2013

Feeling bugged lately? If you live in central Virginia you probably will be soon.

Magicicadas, also known as 17-year cicadas, are on the way.

In fact, they 've already arrived at Elam.

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“What are those creepy things?” I asked my spouse on the way to the barn last Saturday.

The ornamental grass beside the yard light was covered with red-eyed insects that appeared to be sleeping off a night on the town.

“They look like locusts, only smaller,” I added.

Kneeling down for a closer look I observed the strange bugs' unusual features – buggy red eyes, distinctive black bodies, and orange-veined wings.

“They're not locusts, they're cicadas,” my spouse corrected me.

No matter what you want to call them, these bug-eyed creatures look like the prototype for a horror movie. In fact, they might have been the models for that classic thriller of the 1950s, The Fly. After that tale of terror hit the big screen, I wasn't the only one who hesitated to confront anything with buggy eyes, feelers or antennae.

Back to the being bugged factor, the sheer number of cicadas gathered around our lamppost was starting to give me a creepy feeling. If nothing else, I gained a new perspective on the “plague of locusts” recorded in the Bible.

As my spouse explained, however, locusts are far more destructive than cicadas. Locusts, in the same family as grasshoppers, generally destroy all plant life in their path. The 17-year cicadas, on the other hand, don't have mouthparts that chew, so they don't eat plants, don't bite or sting, and don't fly around very much – at least not yet.

Basically, cicadas live underground for 17 years, only emerging to look for love. The males have membranes on their abdomen, which they vibrate by pulling or rubbing. That, unfortunately, is where the rub comes in as far as humans are concerned. It's the racket created by thousands of love struck males that people find annoying.

In something like an insect version of, all the male cicadas in the vicinity begin to advertise their attributes with a buzz saw-like chorus, and then the females respond by clicking their wings. Multiplied a thousand-fold over a typical six to eight week cicada emergence timeframe, this cicada chorus is bound bug more than a few of us.

While some folks are annoyed, others seem to welcome the cicada convergence – from a culinary point of view, that is.

“Anyone hoping to spice up a gluten-free diet need look only at the billions of beady-eyed shrimp-sized cicadas currently emerging from the ground,” John Roach stated in a recent National Geographic article.

Biologist and cicada expert Gene Kritsky added, “They definitely would be gluten free. The bugs are also high in protein, low in fat, and low in carbs.”

“Their plant based diet gives them a green, asparagus-like flavor, especially when eaten raw or boiled,” added Kristky who prefers his Brood II bugs blanched and tossed into a leafy green salad like chunks of chicken.

Cicada cookbooks are already available on the Internet. In Cicada-Licious: Cooking and Enjoying Periodical Cicadas, Entomologist Jenna Jadin notes that crawfish, lobster, crab, shrimp, and cicadas are part of the same biological phylum – arthropods.

“So popping a big juicy beetle, cricket or cicada into your mouth is only a step away,” she wrote.

“That's all she wrote” was more in line with my way of thinking when I read that comment. Joining an entomologist for lunch, in other words, might not be such a good idea right now.

So who, aside from entomologists and purveyors of slightly quirky cuisine, eat or otherwise dispose of cicadas?

My spouse was considering the problem as we walked back from the barn Saturday morning.

“I wonder if birds will eat them,” he mused.

Regarding the clusters of little red eyes peering out at us as we walked by, I was beginning to feel a bit outnumbered. There was no doubt about it – we were in a real cicada crunch.

“What we need is Big Bird!” I said.

Without a word we both turned in the same direction – the chicken house.

“It's worth a try,” my spouse declared as he opened the hen house door.

With a flurry of feathers, a dozen and a half chicken commandos hit the ground, and with military precision, began to patrol the perimeter or the yard. As we watched the hens closed rank around cicada-loaded bushes, then proceeded to do what chickens do best – peck and scratch. Within an hour, the cicadas were gone – well not entirely. If chickens could smile, these were.

“The chickens earned their keep today,” my husband commented as he shut the hens up for the night. “And they were so full of cicadas I didn't even have to feed them!”

I will have to say that generally speaking there's no free lunch. Thanks to the cicadas, my chickens have found an exception.

That's fine with me. Chickens can enjoy all the gluten-free, low carb cicadas they want.

As for me, I'll take my protein sunny side up.