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Your Sensory Guide to the Imminent, Month-Long Cicada Orgy

See, hear and taste the cicada.
 
 
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Photo Credit: Bruce Marlin / Creative Commons

 

If you live on the East Coast, you’ve probably heard that billions of alien bugs called cicadas will emerge from the ground this spring, swarming over a stretch of land from North Carolina to the southern tip of Vermont. When it hits 64 degrees, this collective of cicada offspring called Brood II will rise from their lairs, find mates to make cicada babies, get busy and die. It’s the closest thing we have to a monster movie, but these little critters pose virtually no threat to humans. Since Brood II won’t invade again for another 17 years, we encourage East Coasters to open their eyes, ears and mouths (!) and soak in the cicada swarm. Here’s a sensory guide for maximizing your cicada experience:

See swarms of cicadas blocking the sun!

Up close, these insects tout buggy red eyes and orange, veiny wings. Adult cicadas from Brood II measure at about an inch on average. They tend to swarm around trees, so get out of the city and into wooded areas for optimal viewing.

Before cicadas take flight, they burst out of a translucent, brown shell in a process called molting. Maybe you’ll be lucky enough to catch this biological phenomenon in action. If not, don’t worry — we’ve provided a gif (of a different species) for your pleasure (courtsey: T. Nathan Mundhenk / Creative Commons):

Hear the deafening buzz of the cicada love song.

According to cicada expert John Cooley, “Over the course of an emergence, males congregate in ‘choruses’ or singing aggregations, usually in high, sunlit branches. Females visit these aggregations and mate there, so choruses contain large numbers of both sexes.”

The buzzing choruses register as high as 90 decibels, drowning out human conversation, lawnmowers and busy traffic. At least one professor says long-term, proximate exposure could cause hearing damage, so it might be a good idea to limit your enjoyment of the cicada symphony. Here’s a sneak peak (Courtesy: jscripter / SoundCloud):

Taste cicada sauerbraten with spätzle. 

Whether double dare or delicacy, you might considering adding cicadas to your diet. Low in fat and high in protein, these insects have crept into Chinese cuisine, and even earned an ice cream flavor in Columbia, Missouri.

Or, you can take things into your own hands. How about cicada skewers? Or spice things up with cicada tacos. Check out the Web for recipe collections.

Do take caution however, and follow these tips for safe cicada consumption (via Time):

Mature cicadas should be boiled while still alive to kill any bacteria, and already-dead cicadas should never be harvested because they could be decomposing. Also, anyone with allergies to shellfish, which belong to the same family as cicadas, should avoid the bugs altogether.

Smell the rotting odor of decomposing cicada corpses.

Once cicadas live their four-to-six week lives, they drop dead on the ground, turning your backyard into a mass grave. But you might notice the presence of hundreds of cicada corpses before you even see ‘em! Under the sweltering sun, decomposing cicada corpses produce an overpowering odor that biologist Gene Kritsky compares to the smell of “ripe Limburger cheese.”

Feel the harmless poke of a cicada’s proboscis.

Once again, cicadas pose virtually no safety threats, so don't feel threatened when they swarm in your vicinity. You might feel a little poke, which, depending on your tolerance for tickling, could get annoying.

For the bug haters and sadists out there, cicadas reportedly crunch when squished or stepped on.

Steven Hsieh is an editorial assistant at AlterNet and writer based in Brooklyn. Follow him on Twitter @stevenjhsieh.

 
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