Sunday, August 24, 2008

They say they taste like popcorn.

River City summers wouldn’t be the same without the song of the cicadas. Their lazy, modulating buzz is hypnotic and calming, like an aural downer, on a hot August evening.

Mamaw and Granddad called cicadas locusts, and locusts to them were grasshoppers. Took me years to sort through the confusing maze of common names to figure out what bug was what, and brought me to a greater appreciation of Latin-based scientific nomenclature, even though Latin names seldom sing.

Generally speaking, cicadas are insects belonging to the order Homoptera, suborder Auchennorrhyncha, superfamily Cicadoidea. Worldwide some 2,500 species of cicadas have been identified and many more await formal classification and naming. While “locusts” is commonly applied to these creatures throughout many regions of the United States, cicadas and true locusts are not related. Rather, cicadas occupy the same order as aphids, leafhoppers and spittlebugs.

Our neighbors in the Appalachian region know cicadas as “jar flies” or “dry flies” because of the dry exoskeleton, or shell, left behind when an adult molts. The most common U.S. genus Tibicen are also known as dog day cicadas or annual cicadas as adult Tibicens emerge every summer.
One would be hard pressed to find an order of insects more destructive than Homoptera, mainly due to aphids being classified in this order. Cicadas, however, do not fit the destructive mold as they are truly gentle giants of the insect world. Cicadas neither bite nor sting, nor are they destructive of plants. Of course, some folks find them ugly and obnoxious.

And, yes, some folks do eat them. African children delight in catching them for their grandmas to prepare as a crunchy, popcorn-like snack, and cicadas reportedly are consumed throughout many parts of Asia.

Guess I just haven’t been that hungry yet.

(Photo of Tibicen emerging courtesy of Roy Troutman)
Post a Comment