Cicada Facts: Understanding the Invasion

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• Experts say that the best way to eat cicadas is to collect them in the middle of the night as they emerge from their burrows and before their skins harden. When they are in this condition—like softshell crabs—they can be boiled for about a minute. It is said they taste like asparagus or clam-flavored potato.

The animal world pigs out on the cicada feast. Particularly, songbirds make good use of the bonanza, and their young are well supplied with the nutritious insects. Moles are said to flourish on the fully grown nymphs in the weeks prior to emergence. Other wild animals that enjoy the advantage include snakes and spiders.

Dogs and cats may also avail themselves of the cicada smorgasbord. It does them no harm, although if they eat too many they may have some difficulty digesting a surfeit of cicada skins. There have been reported cases of dogs' digestive tracts becoming blocked by eating too many cicadas.

• Cicadas generally leave no lasting damage, except perhaps to young trees and shrubs. After they have bred and died, they leave the area littered with twigs and leaves that were damaged when the females laid their eggs. The remains of cicada bodies may lie so densely on the ground that there is a smell of decay, but the bodies provide good nutrients for the soil.

• Billions of cicada nymphs hatch in their nests high in the trees, drop to the ground, and burrow into the earth. There they find a succulent tree root, which they tap into with a special strawlike mouth part. They feed on the tree sap and pass through their various growth stages until, 17 years later, it is time to emerge and renew their life cycle.

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