CHICAGO — As cicada “Brood X” begins to awaken from its slumber across the East Coast, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has a timely warning.
The agency said in a tweet Wednesday that people who are allergic to seafood should not eat cicadas, as the insects “share a family relation to shrimp and lobsters.”
The loud, sometimes cumbersome insects are emerging this month across the East Coast. “Brood X,” which awakens every 17 years, is centered in Pennsylvania, Virginia, Indiana and Tennessee, according to the National Park Service.
Cicadas, like many non-venomous insects, are safe to eat (if you don’t have an allergy).
But what do they taste like?
“Not bad! Certainly not buggy,” writes Haley Weiss in The Atlantic. She tried an air-fried cicada, which she recommends over other methods of preparation.
“The entire critter crackled in my mouth like a piece of earthy popcorn,” she continued. “I caught a subtle nuttiness underneath the crunch, almost reminiscent of a roasted chickpea. By the fourth or fifth chew I was almost starting to like it, until I swallowed and realized that a teeny-tiny leg was lingering on my tongue.”
So, cicadas might not be to everyone’s tastes. If you’re not into munching on them, the Park Service says you can safely compost dead cicadas.
The arrival of “Brood X” is not an invasion. The cicadas have been here the entire time, quietly feeding off tree roots underground, not asleep, just moving slowly waiting for their body clocks tell them it is time to come to the surface and breed. They’ve been in America for millions of years, far longer than people.
When they emerge, it gets noisy — 105 decibels noisy, like “a singles bar gone horribly, horribly wrong,” entomologist John Cooley of the University of Connecticut says. There are three distinct cicada species and each has its own mating song.
They aren’t locusts, and the only plants they damage are young trees, which can be netted. The year after a big batch of cicadas, trees actually do better because dead bugs serve as fertilizer, Kritsky says.
People tend to be scared of the wrong insects, says University of Illinois entomologist May Berenbaum. The mosquito kills more people than any other animals because of malaria and other diseases. Yet some people really dread the cicada emergence, she said.
“I think it’s the fact that they’re an inconvenience. Also, when they die in mass numbers they smell bad,” Berenbaum says. “They really disrupt our sense of order.”
But others are fond of cicadas — and even munch on them, using recipes like those in a University of Maryland cookbook. And for scientists like Cooley, there is a real beauty in their life cycle.
“This is a feel-good story, folks. It really is and it’s in a year we need more,” he says. “When they come out, it’s a great sign that forests are in good shape. All is as it is supposed to be.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.