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Mike Redmond Column

Please refer to the Mike Redmond Column main page for columns published in other issues.
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 Cicadas Have a Higher, Louder Calling

The cicadas were screaming their fool heads off last night.

My Lord, what a racket. It was just about intolerable. And remember, this is coming from a guy who used to attend concerts for a living. That was during the Great Heavy Metal Scare of the late 1980s and early 1990s, too, so I know a thing or two about intolerable racket.

Last night's cicada chorus was in especially full voice. I was riding my motorcycle and there were times I couldn't hear the bike because the bugs were yelling at each other. And the bug noise was in my ears the entire time. You'd think they'd let up for a block or two, but no. Even in downtown Indianapolis, which you would not think of as a cicada-friendly environment, they were hollering away.

Now, I don't know a lot about cicadas, but I've picked up a couple of factoids in the last few years:

1. Only the males make the noise, and

2. They're trying to attract a mate.

Great technique, guys. Make a noise like a wood chipper. The ladies will flock to you. Or, in this case, swarm.

(Actually, you can see the human version of this technique at any Meat Market bar on a Saturday night. Males, fueled by a heady combination of beer and testosterone, get louder and louder as the night go on, and the women do what they always do: ignore them.)

Well, anyway, I decided to do a little cicada research, based on a question that occurs to me every time they come out and say howdy:

What good are cicadas, anyway?

I believe that most things on earth have a purpose. OK, there are a few exceptions. My brother comes to mind. But on the whole, we're all here, from the lowliest earthworm to the smartest human, for a reason.

But I'll be dipped if I can think of one for cicadas.

OK, they are edible. They're high in protein and low in fat, and in many parts of the world considered a delicacy. That's fine for some people, but I don't think you'll ever hear me say, "Please pass the cicadas."

According to the National Geographic news service, experts (yes, there are such people) say the best way to prepare cicadas is to gather them at night when they emerge from their burrows, before their skins harden. Boil them for about a minute. The taste is described as something like asparagus, or a clam-flavored potato. Dogs like them raw. My dog Cookie has been snacking on them for days. And if you thought doggie breath was bad before ...

Cicadas, the Geographic people say, leave no significant lasting damage (except maybe to your hearing) and even help to enrich the soil when they die, which happens after mating. They're packed with nitrogen.

And the folks at the College of Mount St. Joseph in Cincinnati told the Columbus Dispatch that cicadas could actually help fruit trees. By laying their eggs in slits they cut into small tree branches, which eventually wither and fall, the cicadas perform a natural pruning that results in increased fruit production the following year.

OK, so maybe cicadas do have a higher purpose. Maybe they're not here simply to make a racket. That doesn't make them any less noisy, or any more appetizing. Sorry, Geographic. Sorry, Mount St. Joseph. There isn't enough ketchup in the world.




© 2008 Mike Redmond. All Rights Reserved.