Cicadas are a lot more than noisy insects

My first real experience with cicadas was back in the mid-60s in Maine. I remember riding my bicycle really fast down a hill and getting smacked in the face by one of the noisy red eyed critters. It hit me hard and I was lucky to maintain my balance. I’d never seen that many of them before, but that year they were everywhere.

Checking the history that year must have been 1965. That was a year of the 17 year cicada. They emerge in droves every 17 years. The last time they invaded that area was 2013.

This year they emerged in West Virginia and I was there in 1982 when you could sweep them up in garbage can loads. I visited by brother-in-law last year when they emerged again. There’s a brood that emerged in North Carolina this year, but I haven’t seen many.

Cicadas can be destructive, but they are very intriguing insects. Many people incorrectly call them locusts, but they don’t swarm and consume every green object like grasshoppers do.  Some have an annual life cycle and some emerge every 13 or 17 years, depending upon the species and locale. Emerging adults find something to land on so they can dry their wings. Sometimes they light on people’s clothing.

This is nothing to be concerned about. They won’t bite or sting. In fact, adult cicadas don’t eat anything at all. They drink water, procreate and make a lot of noise, at least the males do. Adult cicada males are the noisiest insects in the world. They can be heard from a half mile away. Adults only live about a month.

The periodic cicadas are the most intriguing in my opinion. They live underground for years and then all of a sudden, when the soil temperature at about an eight inch depth reaches 64 degrees they tunnel out.

They don’t hibernate. Cicadas just have a slow metabolism and exist on a diet of tree roots. They don’t actually eat the roots. They suck the sap from them.

Once they emerge, the cicadas aren’t adults yet, unfortunately for us. Immature cicadas do like to eat and damage trees, particularly hardwood trees. Soon thousands of exoskeletons become attached to trees and just about anything else that doesn’t move.

Once adults, females lay up to 400 eggs on twigs in trees. These eggs hatch in about six weeks. Young nymphs start to grow by sucking plant sap. Nymphs eventually burrow into the ground and subsist on a diet of root sap, which has less sugar and fewer nutrients.

Burrowing into the soil; is a good survival practice. Numerous animals like to eat cicadas. Some people even like them. Fat white nymphs are the biggest delicacy. Adults are plentiful but not really in demand.

Popular ways to eat them are roasted or sautéed in olive oil. Only hardcore bug nuts eat them raw. Those with shellfish allergies should avoid them.

I like to collect wild foods but will refrain from eating cicadas unless I become lost in a desolate place and pickings are slim. I wouldn’t want to deprive the wildlife of such a fine low-carb gluten-free food source anyway.

cidada resting on the hot concrete

Ted Manzer teaches agriculture at Northeastern High School (

About tedmanzer

I grew up in Old Town Maine and got a B.S. at the University of Maine in Plant Sciences/ minor in Botany. From there I moved to West Virginia and earned a M.S. in Agronomy at WVU. I also met my wife there. She grew up in rural WV as the daughter of tenant farmers who raised cattle and hogs. Their lifestyle at times was one of subsistence and I learned a lot from them. I've always been a foraging buff, but combining my formal botanical knowledge with their practical 'Foxfire-type' background opened up my eyes a little more. I recently retired from teaching high school agriculture after 25 years teaching with my wife. Until recently I wrote a weekly nature/foraging column for the local paper ( I also have written several Christian nature/adventure novels that can be purchased on Amazon in Kindle format. One is a five book family saga I call the 'Forgotten Virtues' series. In the first book, Never Alone (presently out of print), a young boy comes of age after his father dies in a plane crash, and he has to make it alone. The second book, Strange Courage, takes Carl from his High School graduation to his recovery from a nasty divorce. The third book, Second Chances, takes Carl from his ex-wife's death and the custody of his son to his heroic death at age 59. The fourth book, Promises Kept, depicts how his grandchildren react and adjust to his death (this one is not yet published). In the final book, Grandfather's Way, his youngest and most timid granddaughter emerges from the shadow of her overachieving family and accomplishes more in four months than most do in a lifetime. I use many foraging references with a lot of the plants I profile in these articles in those books. I also wrote a romance novel titled Virginia. It is available on Amazon and is a different type of romance from a man's perspective.
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