John Pryke/Reuters
A Magicicada from Brood X, which appeared in 2004. The coming invasion is from Brood II.

Swarmageddon: Billions of Cicadas Are Emerging; Tasty but Not Pretty

ICTMN Staff
5/27/13

Crawling, shedding and flitting around on gossamer wings, the Brood II batch of Magicicadas is probably screeching over your Memorial Day picnic at this very moment, at least if you live on the East Coast of Turtle Island. Swarmageddon has arrived.

Back in 1996, The New York Times explains, the mothers of the current crop laid eggs in tree branches. The eggs incubated for a few weeks, hatched and the larvae rained groundward, where they insinuated themselves into the soil.

For 17 years they lurked just below the surface, sucking sap from tree roots and getting ready to mature so they could join their kin, billions of them, in a 90-decibel mating orgy this summer. When the temperature eight inches below ground hit 64 degrees Fahrenheit, they squirmed up to the surface. By now they, their empty husks or carcasses are blanketing the ground, and the noise is as loud as a subway train or a rock concert. At their height they will outnumber us humans by 600 to 1, according to the Associated Press

The coal-black, crunchy, red-eyed insects are harmless, though they do deliver quite the ew factor, especially en masse. They will be just about everywhere, especially outside the cities. "You are going to find them anyplace where old-growth trees haven't been disturbed for at least 17 years," entomologist Craig Gibbs, assistant curator at the Wildlife Conservative Society's Queens Zoo, told the New York Daily News.

There are some places the 1.5-inch-long insects will not be, the Atlantic reported. Washington D.C. is home to a different brood, which is not due out this year. New York City itself won’t see very many because it’s “a bit too heavy on the concrete for the bugs to emerge,” the magazine said, and any ones that do will be gobbled up quickly by birds. City dwellers who want to see the bugs while staying relatively close to home can head to the heavily wooded Bronx Zoo.

Some places will offer refuge from Swarmageddon. Besides Washington, they include the Shenandoah Valley, which is a Brood I zone, the Atlantic said, although the valley is also right next to a Brood II area, so one may not be completely immune there. West of the Great Plains and north of the Great Lakes is also outside Brood II territory.

Cicadas are around every year, but the batch, or brood, of this particular species—the Magicicada—could number in the billions. Another brood of Magicicada comes out every 13 years and does not overlap with this one, but it is not as large.

This means lots of birds and woodland animals are gorging themselves in a feeding frenzy amid the mating frenzy.

"It's going to be a tremendous boom year for anything that can eat cicada," explained John Cooley, a biologist who runs the go-to website for cicada studies, Magicicada.org

People number among those creatures, though those with shellfish allergies should think twice before chowing down, and people who live near heavy-pesticide areas may want to abstain as well. Recipes are proliferating on the Web almost as fast as the bugs can emerge from the ground. Think of cicadas as land shrimp, said Isa Betancourt, an entomologist from the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University, to NBC News.

“They are arthropods, which means they have an exoskeleton,” Betancourt said. “We regularly eat the arthropods of the sea, and those are the shrimp, lobsters and crabs. And so cicadas are arthropods too.”

The early settlers documented American Indian cicada consumption. Turtle Island’s inhabitants had long been roasting and munching on cicadas when the settlers arrived.

"That the Cicada(sic) was eaten by the red men of America, both before and after the coming of the colonists, is indicated in a memorandum, dated 1715, left by the Rev. Andrew Sandel, of Philadelphia, who, referring to the use of locusts as food in eastern Asia, states also that the Cicada is so used by the Indians," wrote C.L. Marlatt, First Assistant Entomologist for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, in The Periodical Cicada: An Account of Cicada Septendecim, Its Natural Enemies and the Means of Preventing Its Injury, published in 1898 by the government printing office.

"Dr. Asa Fitch corroborates this statement, giving as his authority Mr. W.S. Robertson, who informs him 'that the Indians make the different species of Cicada an article of diet, every year gathering quantities of them and preparing them for the table by roasting in a hot oven, stirring them until they are well browned.’ ”

Using cicadas as food segues into American Indian mythology, too.

"Members of the Onondaga Nation near Syracuse maintain the oral tradition of being rescued from famine by periodical cicadas," wrote Cooley, a research scientist at the University of Connecticut, on Magicicada.org, noting that the squeamish settlers were not at all sanguine. "Early European colonists viewed periodical cicadas with a mixture of religious apprehension and loathing.” 

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