Brood X cicadas help the environment

When the Brood X cicadas emerge this spring, they live for a few days and then perish after mating. The dead insects fall to the ground and literally cover it with their bodies. Many people see them as a nuisance, however they perform several necessary functions that benefit a healthy ecosystem. The vast numbers of the emergence ensures that they are never in any danger of being eliminated and there will always be plenty to serve their purpose in nature. How do billions of insects emerging all at once benefit nature? Surprisingly enough, in a number of ways.

Wildlife benefit from the cicada emergence

First of all, there is the obvious. Insect-eating wildlife are presented with a bounty of food that most of them have never experienced. More food means better health and better health results in a population boom. More birds and small mammals means more food for the predators, so wildlife benefit from Brood X. Cicadas are also tasty to domestic cats and dogs, however owners should be cautious. The soft nymphs are easily chewed and eaten, however the mature cicadas have hard heads and stiff wings that could pose choking problems. Not to mention the mess, when they indulge in too many and they come indoors to upchuck on your carpets. Pesticide covered cicadas are also hazardous for pets, as many home owners try to douse the bugs, only to discover they aren't affected by the poison.


Cicadas are beneficial to the forests

Cicadas also benefit the trees. The nymphs that live in the ground for 17 years tunnel around the roots of the trees that feed them, often to great depths. They are quite comfortable sipping sap from the roots as deep as 8 feet. Since these nymphs grow to be considerable size, they create a system of runs and tunnels that aerate the soil and helps channel water deep to the furthest roots. The trees are not affected by the insects and when they ultimately emerge, mate and die, the dead insects provide green manure to feed the trees, as the trees first fed them. It is a beautiful and efficient cycle. Some studies report that the dead cicadas are similar to using a pound of fertilizer per square yard wherever they are the heaviest. Tree ring studies suggest that there is above average growth in the cicada years, so they are good for the soil and gardeners can take advantage of this fertilizer windfall too!

Add cicadas to the compost pile

A homeowner raking piles of dead cicada bodies in their yard might miss the most obvious use for these bugs. Cicadas can be composted! There are a few things you'll need to do, however the bumbling bugs can ultimately benefit your garden. The problem with so many cicada carcasses is that you've got a large percentage of 'green' and you'll need 'browns' to balance out the ratio. Too many bug bodies without the drier browns, smells just like what you'd imagine. Rotten bugs. Use dead leaves and dry grass to balance and turn the pile often to mix well. The crispy cicada hulls left behind when the adults emerge are also good for the compost and are considered 'brown'. Remember to cover your garden ponds and swimming pools too. You'll be netting the bugs out of them daily if you don't. Many home owners postpone opening their swimming pools for the season until the cicadas are gone.

cicada hulls

Be brave and eat a cicada

For the adventurous and non-squeamish, cicadas are low fat, low carb, gluten-free and a good source of protein. The best stage to gather cicadas for eating is as they emerge from the ground or just as they break out of their exoskeleton. Adult cicadas whose bodies have already hardened are the least tasty way of eating them. However if you choose mature cicadas, fried is the best option. Several chefs make a protein powder from cicadas and that seems to remove the 'ick' factor from our North American aversion to eating insects. A huge part of the rest of the world doesn't share this distaste and insect eating is common. Even Native Americans embraced insect based cuisine before the Europeans showed up. Gather a large bowl full of soft, freshly emerged cicadas. By the time you're done, the mass will be reduced by 1/3, so plan accordingly. You'll find them best after dark as they crawl up the trees. Wash them through several changes of water until it runs clear. Bring a large pot of water to boil and if the insects are going to be for humans, a tablespoon of sea salt will help. Dump the cicadas in and bring them back to a boil and cook for a couple of minutes. Drain well and spread on a cookie sheet. Bake at about 300F for between an hour and a half to two hours. The legs will be crispy and flake off when they are done and the bugs will feel dry. Let them cool and run them through a coffee grinder a few at a time until you have a powdery substance. Add the powder to anything you would a commercial protein powder. If you want to make a protein powder for your pets, don't boil them in salty water. Both cats and dogs can have small portions of the powder mixed with their regular food. However, it isn't nutritionally complete to rely on it as a major part of their diets. Also, people with shellfish allergies shouldn't eat cicadas.

Cicadas won't harm you, or your gardens

Even if you don't use the cicadas for anything, don't worry about them causing any harm. They aren't venomous, do not sting or bite and the only plants they may harm are extremely young trees or shrubs. The females slit the ends of branches where they lay their eggs. This causes the tips to die, however on most plants, this is just a cosmetic nuisance. If you have extremely young trees, wrap the branches with cheesecloth or fine netting. If you can't reach the top, they don't need protection and will be fine. Wrapping the trunks of your trees in sticky tape keeps them from crawling up as well, however cicadas fly, so this is not really an effective deterrent. Knock them off with a stream from your water hose. Keep pets indoors during the heaviest part of the emergence to prevent them from overeating, or possibly choking on the tough wings and bodies. The best thing to do, is embrace the bug storm and appreciate this very special wonder of nature.