Cicada Invasion 2013: Is It Legal (And Safe) To Eat 17-Year-Cicadas?

By Philip Ross on May 7, 2013 12:26 AM EDT

cicada invasion
Skewered locusts, much like the cicada, are eaten in various places of the world, including China, Burma, parts of Latin America and the Congo. (Photo: Creative Commons)

The cicada invasion of 2013 is nigh, with sightings of the bulbous, red-eyed arthropod already making headlines.

Over the coming weeks, billions of cicadas - literally, buckets upon buckets of them - will sprout from their earthen womb, leaving behind a landscape punctuated by tiny escape tunnels, in order to mate, molt and die. The insects have spent the past 17 years underground sucking the sap from plant roots, and now they're ready to pop.

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According to the New York Forest Owners Association, or NYFOA, adult cicadas are the largest members of the Order Homoptera, which includes aphids, scales, planthoppers and spittlebugs. Adults can reach 2 inches in length, and their bodies are globular with broad heads and clear-membrane wings.

And you want to know something else? Cicadas, like many insects, are also chock full of protein.

For bold foodies looking to create some buzz at the dinner table, the cicada invasion offers a rare opportunity to spice up the hors d'oeuvres menu.

And really, eating cicadas is not all that strange when you consider that, around the world, humans eat about 1,000 different kinds of insects on a pretty regular basis. According to a study from the University of Maryland, insects are a cheap and widely available protein source. People in Bali enjoy dragonflies grilled or boiled in spices; cooks in Papua New Guinea like to whip up a plate of sago grubs; people in Africa's Congo eat dozens of different types of caterpillars; and Filipino farmers capture mole crickets in their fields and sell them to restaurants.

But is it legal to catch a cicada and, if so, are they safe to eat?

Can Cicadas Be Removed From The Wild?

In Dec. 1973, Congress passed the Endangered Species Act, or ESA, in an effort to preserve endangered and threatened species and their habitats. As outlined in the ESA, it is illegal to harass, harm, pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, trap, capture or collect, or even to attempt to do any of these things to a protected species.

There are a number of insects on the ESA's list of protected species, including the American burying beetle, the Lange's metalmark butterfly, the spruce-fir moss spider and the Kretschmarr Cave mold beetle.

Luckily for cicada enthusiasts, cicadas are not a protected species. So unless you're caught torturing cicadas - which still isn't technically illegal, but will definitely land you in the do-not-invite-to-parties category - start collecting!

Are 17-Year-Cicadas Safe To Eat?

Before you throw cicadas on the barbeque, or deep-fry them, or simply plop a raw cicada in your mouth, it's best to ask: Are they safe to eat?

The short answer? Yes. The caveat? Just make sure you're not allergic, and that you prepare them properly.

"We make such a big deal out of this, but the biggest thing we have to deal with is human ignorance. They are no more germy than any other animal," David George Gordon, author of The Eat a Bug Cookbook, told Time Magazine.

According to Time, cicada nymphs, the stage in a cicada's life cycle right before it sheds its exoskeleton, are okay to eat raw after they emerge from the soil. Adult cicadas, however, should be boiled while still alive in order to kill any pathogens. Dead cicadas should never, ever be eaten, as they could be already putrefying. And most importantly: Anyone with a shellfish allergy would do best to avoid the cicada harvest all together. From Time:

The inch-long bugs are widely consumed around the world, especially in East Asia, and are considered a delicacy among the Iroquois people in the U.S. Even the ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle gobbled them up: in his 4th century B.C. text Historia Animalium, he noted that the young nymphs are tastier than mature bugs, which have a harder exoskeleton, and that among adults, the egg-laden females are best.

Want some tips on how to prepare cicadas? Smithsonian Magazine has some ideas on how to make the most of a cicada harvest.

Read more from iScience Times:

17-Year-Cicadas: When And Where Will They Begin To Swarm? [VIDEO]

Billions Of Cicadas: Are The Bugs Swarming The East Coast Dangerous? [VIDEO]

Cicada Watch 2013 Update: Join the #CicadaInvasion!

With 30 billion cicadas expected to invade the U.S. this summer, iScienceTimes is waiting with bated breath for the arrival of the swarms in our neighborhoods.

We want to know when and where they first emerge, so we've created a hashtag, #cicadainvasion, for all our readers to use. As soon as you get a video, a photo or an audiorecording, or even simply see a cicada, tweet, Facebook or email your story to us and we'll include it in our roundup.

Keep an eye out! Cicadas emerge when the ground temperature stays above 64 degrees for several days in a row-- which should be any day now!

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