Cicadas 2013 in Hunterdon County – A little History – and Some Fine Eating.

Billions upon billions of periodical cicadas make a historical appearance this spring. “Brood II” is the species of 17-year cicadas scheduled to appear in this geographic region.

Brood II is one of seven species of periodical cicadas that live in eastern North America. Brood II cicadas can be found along the east coast from North Carolina all the way up to Connecticut. The last time Brood II appeared was 1996. Its next emergence will be 2030.

Periodical cicadas live only in eastern North America. Of the seven species, three of them have a life cycle of 17 years; the other four have 13 year life cycles. They spend most of this cycle living as nymphs (larvae) underground, where they suck juices from plant roots. In the spring of their last year, they construct tunnels for themselves to the surface and emerge with precisely synchronized timing to molt into their adult form, mate (which involves loud, species-specific choruses by the males to attract females), and lay eggs. Their emergence is thought to be triggered by the soil temperature reaching 62 degrees.

During an emergence, adults may be present in very large densities, sometimes as high as 1.5 million individuals/acre. Their occurrences are usually much denser than non-periodic cicada species. It is hypothesized that these high densities satiate the many predators of these cicadas before impacting their population sizes, and the long (prime-number) lifecycles make it impossible for predators to evolve specialized strategies to predictably utilize periodic cicadas as a food source. Adult cicadas feed on plant juices using piercing and sucking mouthparts (that are of no harm to humans or other animals). Females lay up to about 600 eggs, ovipositing them into eggnests under the bark of twigs. Adults die before the eggs hatch. The eggs hatch after 6-10 weeks, and then the nymphs drop to the ground to begin a new 13- or 17-year long development to adults.

Healthy Eating?

Cicadas don’t eat wheat. They are low-carb and Gluten free.

So, are you ready to try a cicada? Aspiring gourmands must first collect the raw ingredients. The insects are best eaten just after the nymphs break open their skin and before their exoskeleton turns black and hard, cicada aficionados say.

These newly hatched cicadas are called tenerals.  Experts tell us that they are easiest to collect in the early morning hours, just after the insects emerge from the ground but before they crawl up a tree, where they are harder to reach.

If tenerals are unavailable, the next best menu item is adult females. Their bellies are fat and full of nutritious eggs. Adult males, however, offer little to eat. More crunch than munch, their abdomens are hollow. (This enables the flirtatious tunes they strum on body structures known as tymbals to resonate.) With raw cicadas in hand, preparation is a matter of chef’s choice.

Many people like them deep fried and dipped in a sauce like a hot mustard or cocktail sauce. Other people boil or blanch them.  Experts tell us that cicadas take on a “nutty” flavor when roasted.  However, many  cicada recipes call for a lot of spices and sauce, which usually winds up being the dominant flavor.

  • *Candied Cicadas
  • 1 pound cicadas
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • 3 tbsp milk
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350°F (177°C). Spread cicadas in a single layer over a baking sheet. Roast for approximately 15-20 minutes, or until the cicadas start to turn brown and are thoroughly dried out.

Stir together sugar, cinnamon, salt, and milk in a medium saucepan. Cook over medium-high heat for eight minutes, or until the mixture reaches the soft ball stage at 236°F (113°C). Remove from heat, and stir in vanilla immediately.

Add cicadas to sugar syrup, and stir to coat well. Spoon onto waxed paper, and immediately separate cicadas with a fork. Cool and store in airtight containers.

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