My son, and many of his buddies, were born in 2004. When the pandemic hit last spring, these guys all retreated to their dark, dank basements where they attended school online. As soon as classes were over, they played video games and chatted with one another over the internet.
Months passed, and the boys continued to grow and mature in their subterranean lairs. Thankfully, the restrictions from the pandemic have started to ease. As a result, the fellas have emerged from their underground dens en masse to frolic in the sun while listening to loud music. Oh, and they have suddenly taken a strong interest in the fairer sex.
As I observed this phenomenon, it suddenly hit me – I think my son may be a cicada.
Every 17 years, billions of cicadas from Brood X tunnel up from their underground nests to mate and create the next generation of bugs. According to Scientific American, this current iteration of cicadas hatched in 2004, fell from trees and burrowed into the dirt. They have been underground ever since, feeding on sap from the rootlets of grasses and trees and slowly maturing.
2021 marks the year they emerge to the surface in droves, with up to 1.4 million cicadas per acre. People have described so many bugs in one place that it appeared “the ground was moving.” Cicadas molt into their adult form, sing their deafening mating call and then produce the next generation before dying just a few weeks later.
While the sudden appearance of trillions of cicadas is reminiscent of a biblical plague, unlike locusts, they do not swarm, nor do they devour crops. Although the bugs will provide a smorgasbord for birds, bats, spiders and other critters, there will still be millions of excess cicadas.
Some people have found a creative way to deal with all the extra insects this summer – eating them.
Numerous recipes featuring cicadas have circulated online recently, including cicada cookies, fried cicadas and cicada tacos. While the exact nutritional content of cicadas is not known, entomologists claim most bugs contain large amounts of protein, iron and zinc. Cicadas have been a staple food for Australian Aborigines, New Guineans, Siamese, and Native Americans, and were considered a delicacy in ancient Greece and Rome, as well as in modern-day Japan.
Before you peel them off the bug-zapper and snack on them, though, you should know that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently issued a warning that they may not be safe for everyone to eat. “We have to say it,” the FDA tweeted earlier this month. “Don’t eat cicadas if you’re allergic to seafood as these insects share a family relation to shrimp and lobsters.” Fish and shellfish are two of the eight major food allergens that altogether account for 90% of food allergies in the U.S.
The Food Agricultural Organization of the United Nations adds, “Food safety risks can be higher when insects are harvested from the wild and consumed raw,” as many folks are currently doing with cicadas. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency states that while cicadas are not poisonous or venomous, cats or dogs that consume “many” cicadas may temporarily suffer from an upset stomach or vomiting.
“Cicadas’ crunchy/crispy exoskeleton can irritate the stomach lining if eaten in large volumes and can be a potential choking hazard, especially for small dogs,” the FDA Center for Veterinary Medicine warned in a tweet last month.
So, just to be safe, I will not be eating any cicadas this summer. Even if you deep fry them and soak them with ketchup.