The Great Cicada Uprising

May 1, 2024
Tom Poland

By Tom Poland


Its exoskeleton brings the creature in Alien to mind. It’s armed with needle-sharp claws and glistens as if waxed. It bristles with filaments like stinging nettle, but forget all that. It’s dead. Not so the critter that slides from it drenched in a mucous-like film. Once it dries, it flies into the night, and our periodic visitor heads for the hardwood canopy.

Magicicada septendecim doesn’t last long before it finds itself grounded. Alight it’s a tasty meal, an easy meal. Damn if I didn’t see a squirrel with a cicada in its mouth. It hopped atop a stump, ripped off the critter’s wings, and the crunching began.

A red-eyed cicada just before flying away. Exoskeleton in the background.

Now few things rile up folks like a bunch of bugs. We knew they were coming, and now they’re here and so are we, kind of like folks in the path of a hurricane.

“Yep, I’ll just ride it out.”

Well this great uprising (they burrow up from pencil-size holes in the ground) does little harm and it breaks the monotony like few other things. Folks enjoy the show even if some fear them. Just yesterday I saw a woman let out a whoop and duck for cover when a red-eyed bug buzzed her face.

The birds are engaged. I see them darting about a good bit more. Erratic flight patterns testify to the aerial acrobatics they employ to get a repast. Like that opportunistic squirrel, birds see a chance to supplement their diet. Same as we would were juicy burgers or sautéed shrimp flying within arm’s reach.

The discarded exoskeleton is not a pretty thing.

I like all the commotion. I like that high-pitched whine that sounds like DeWalt drills piercing steel from afar. By the way, if you hear a single cicada call it sounds like a burst from an alien’s ray gun. Taken altogether it’s high-pitched while that puts mosquitoes to shame.

Birds like them and apparently squirrels do, but I once saw a squirrel cross the trail where I was jogging. In its little rat-like teeth was a cigarette butt. That undercuts the squirrel’s judgment, but let’s suppose you and I were in dire straits. What if war or blight had brought us to starvation, when suddenly up from the ground comes a’bubbling, not crude, not Texas tea, but tasty cicadas.

“Tasty?” You ask. Check out this passage from the Ohio State Health & Discovery website. “I’m tempted to say they taste just like chicken, but they do have a nutty flavor and a nice crunch when sautéed in olive oil with a few seasonings tossed in for good measure. Old Bay seasoning is always a winner. However, I’m not so sure you can eat them without accompaniments. Go ahead and sauté them for a minute or two and top a nice dish of leafy greens with some crispy cicadas. But please don’t use ranch dressing. After all, they’ve been waiting 17 years for this big dance, and you shouldn’t humiliate them one last time. A bit of extra virgin olive oil, some fresh lemon juice and a few cracks of black pepper will do just fine.”

Okay, Jim Warner, if you say so. I’d like to say Mr. Warner is coming at us tongue in cheek, but it’s cicada in cheek. The photo on the website page portrays about 50 cicadas on bamboo skewers ready for the grill.

It’s my last rodeo as the 17-year-cicadas go. I won’t be around for the next brood, so I’m going to enjoy this spectacle of nature but not in the kitchen. Tasty or not, cicadas, like shoals lilies and fireflies, amaze us and give us another reason to marvel at nature’s ways.


Georgia native Tom Poland writes a weekly column about the South, its people, traditions, lifestyle, and culture and speaks frequently to groups in the South. Governor Henry McMaster conferred the Order of the Palmetto upon Tom, South Carolina’s highest civilian honor, stating, “His work is exceptional to the state.” Poland’s work appears in books, magazines, journals, and newspapers throughout the South.

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