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Cicada: Sounds Like an Alien,Tastes Like Asparagus

The creature's ghost was clinging to a gardenia leaf, and I paused to take photos of the spooky critter.

I was looking at the husk of a cicada nymph. It is summertime, and I was not surprised to see it. 

Every summer, the mating calls of cicadas are ubiquitous as evening falls over Alabama. This strange racket has been likened to the alien sound of a UFO. The male cicada produces his love song by flexing a pair of drum-like membranes in his abdomen, called tymbals. Small muscles pull the tymbals in and out to create the clicking sound. The female cicada does not find the music alien at all, but rather is quite attracted to it. 

After mating, the female cicada lays her tiny eggs in a groove she makes in a tree limb. The eggs hatch after about 6 to 8 weeks. A newly hatched cicada looks a lot like a white ant or termite. The immature cicada, called a nymph, feeds on fluids from the tree until it falls to the ground, and then it searches for roots to feed upon. Depending on the species, the nymph will spend up to 17 years tunneling and feeding underground. While cicadas sometimes injure small trees, they are relatively harmless and do not cause significant environmental damage.

There are about 1300 species of cicadas identified world-wide. Most North American cicadas belong to either the Neotibicen or the Magicicada genus. The Neotibicens are also called annual or dog day cicadas. They emerge from the ground every year during the "dog days" of summer, in late July or August. The most famous cicadas are the Magicicadas. They emerge every 13 or 17 years, swarming out of the ground suddenly and in huge numbers. I still remember when they emerged in Alabama in 2011. Because of their numbers they sometimes are called locusts, but they actually are related to aphids, not locusts or grasshoppers. 

After they emerge from the ground, the nymphs climb the nearest tree and then shed their exoskeleton. Soon their wings inflate with fluid and their adult skin hardens.

Their brief adult life, only weeks, is spent looking for a mate. Males usually sing at night when their predators are less active, and there are plenty of predators. Mammals, birds, and amphibians all eat cicadas, sometimes to the point of gorging themselves. Even many humans consider them a tasty treat. They are high in protein, low in carbohydrate, and gluten free. One can find lots of cicada recipes on the internet. I have never eaten one, but I have heard they taste like asparagus.

You may also enjoy my previous post: Dog Days of Summer 


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Reader Comments (14)

oh yes, I love the song of the cicada, it then is summer, ice tea, sultry heat, cold watermelons, afternoon thunderstorms...

July 31, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterEvelyn

I do like to hear them, because it's the unique sound of summer. But I'm definitely going to pass on eating them!

July 31, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterRobin

You saved the best for last! After the title about the cicada tasting like asparagus, I couldn't wait to read if you were fond of eating them. I enjoyed the photos because I had no idea what they looked like. The adult kinda, sorta looks like a grasshopper.

July 31, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterLinda

Gluten free! I'd always assumed that they looked much like a grasshopper but they're homelier still - they'd make a good model for a horror movie. (Who needs giant ants when you can have giant cicadas?!) I like asparagus but I don't think I could bring myself to try eating a cicada.

July 31, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterKris P

I like the sound they make! Fascinating creatures they certainly are.

August 1, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterMark and Gaz

Good post. I don't like when they visit here though. You are having a bad year with them. Funny... they do sound like what I suspect a UFO hovering would sound like.

August 1, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterDonna

I've read that cicadas are the loudest insect in the WORLD!

They're awesome creatures, but I'm a little scared of them. It's not that their malevolent, it's that their large, powerful and very clumsy fliers. Last year I startled one from a bush and launched itself directly toward my face and smacked me right in the eye.

Luckily, I managed to close my lid in time, so I was just startled and did not sustain any serious ocular damage.

I still love cicadas, I just treat them with the same caution that I'd give any flying oaf :P

August 1, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterAaron Dalton

We seem to have more annual cicadas in recent years than we did in the past. They, along with the Katydids, are very loud and musical this time of year. :) Occasionally, we get some of the 17-year broods, which it looks like won't happen for a while now. They're so fascinating.

August 1, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterBeth @ PlantPostings

They do look like aliens. Fascinating!

August 2, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterDenise

Fascinating. They look kind of prehistoric. And although they may be tasty, I don't see myself eating any anytime soon. ;-)

August 2, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterJean

Ha! Glutenfree :-)
I love asparagus, but I think I will pass on these alien creatures. I have never heard cicadas as we don’t have them over here, the only native European cicada is endangered across much of Europe and hasn’t had a confirmed sighting for many years.
Thanks for all the information, fascinating!

August 2, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterHelene

THANK YOU...I was wondering what the heck I hear most nights. Never knew till I clicked on your link. I will be on the look out for cicadas now. Great info also.

August 4, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterPatsi

Um, no thanks. I just ate.

August 6, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterJason

What a fascinating post! I never knew very much about the life cycle of Cicadas apart from the noise they make - so now I am well informed! Amazing photos too! I just don't think I could ever eat one though - although I love asparagus!!!

August 15, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterKate R

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