GEORGIA — By now, you've probably heard all the noise about the billions of 17-year periodical cicadas, whose emergence from the Earth is one of the true marvels of nature, that will be tuning up in Georgia this spring.
Did you know you can eat these nutritious, red-eyed bugs that are high in protein and low in fat? Deep fry them and serve with a hot mustard dipping sauce. Marinate them in teriyaki sauce. Bake them into a cake or pie.
Now that you've rearranged your face, know this: They're called the "shrimp of the land."
That's according to Isa Betancourt, an entomologist from Philadelphia's Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University.
"It's a delicacy that's rare," she told Lancaster Online of edible cicadas, which are among the bugs she's eaten.
"We regularly eat the arthropods of the sea, and those are the shrimp, lobster and crabs," Betancourt told the news outlet, noting that "cicadas are arthropods, too."
Some who have dined on cicadas say they even taste a little like shrimp, according to Food & Wine.
The bugs that will begin emerging from the ground in 15 states and the District of Columbia in May or June are Brood X, also known as the Great Eastern Brood.
Besides Georgia, the 17-year cicadas will be emerging in Delaware, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Maryland, Michigan, North Carolina, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia and the District of Columbia.
Researchers have said that in our state, they'll be in Union, White and possibly Gilmer counties, as well as Blairsville, Ellijay and Norcross.
The best time to harvest cicadas (again, stop making that face) is just after they emerge when they are molting — that is, shedding their skin. Morning hours are best, Betancourt told Lancaster Online.
"That's when they're softest," she said. "When they first emerge, they'll be kind of green in color, and after a few hours they'll harden."
They're still edible after hardening, but crunchy.
Mike Raupp, an entomology professor at the University of Maryland, just loves them. His former students even created "Cicada-Licious: Cooking and Enjoying Periodical Cicada," a cookbook filled with cicada recipes.
"I've had them several different ways and, frankly, I've enjoyed them every way I've eaten them," Raupp told Lancaster Online.
Gaye Williams, an entomologist with the Maryland Department of Agriculture, called them "the truffles of the insect world" in a 2004 interview with The Baltimore Sun.
Many cultures around the world regularly eat insects, Williams said.
"Americans are the only ones around who are grossed out by eating insects," Williams told The Sun. "For most people around the world, insects are a major food source or delicacy."
Jenna Jadin, one of Raupp's former students, shared a cicada craft cocktail, called Red Eyes, with National Geographic in 2013 ahead of the emergence of Brood II of the 17-year cicadas. Here's the recipe:Red Eyes
Shake the ingredients in a shaker with ice and strain into a chilled glass. Garnish with a couple of candied cicadas on a stick.
You're still making that face.
"Have you ever eaten an oyster or a clam out of the bay? It lives on the bottom of the bay and filters, you know what (feces)," Raupp told Lancaster Online. "You'd eat this thing, but would not eat this delectable insect that's been sucking on plant fat for 17 years? I think it's weird."
None of this is new.
Author Charles Lester Marlatt recalled people eating cicada stew in "The Periodical Cicada," written in 1898.
"The cicadas were collected just as they emerged from pupae, and were thrown in cold water in which they remained overnight," he wrote. "They were cooked the next morning and served at breakfast time. They imparted a distinct and not unpleasant flavor to the stew, but were not at all palatable themselves, as they were reduced to nothing but bits of flabby skin. ... The most palatable method of cooking is to fry in batter, when they remind one of shrimps."
The synchronized emergence of Magicicada cassini, as this cicada brood is scientifically known, is a true marvel of nature. The species' extraordinarily long life cycle — the longest of any insect on the planet — is part of an evolutionary strategy that has allowed the cicada to survive for 1.8 million years, or from the Pleistocene Epoch, according to a CBS News report.
They'll all tune up at once in a species-wide mating call. The collective song of male cicadas calling for matescan reach up to 100 decibels. Think of a Harley-Davidson motorcycle with straight pipes constantly running outside your window.
The cicadas periodic emergence is still an unfolding scientific mystery. Scientists can't entirely explain the synchronized emergence of periodical cicadas, but one evolutionary hypothesis is that the forced developmental delay was an adaptation to climate cooling during the ice ages.