Trillions of brood X cicadas move closer to emergence as soil temperatures rise

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Brood X, otherwise known as the great cicada hatching of 2021, is drawing closer as soil temperatures in some parts of America move closer to 64F (18C) – the trigger, according to scientists, for trillions of the insects to push up to the surface and into the trees to mate.

Related: If we want to save the planet, the future of food is insects

It is a remarkable 17-year-life cycle for the hordes of bugs, who form different broods that emerge at different times and who remain underground for almost their entire lives before briefly emerging to mate and then die.

Brood X – or the Great Eastern Brood – is the group of cicadas that spread over tracts of the north-east of the US, including New York and Washington, as well as parts of the midwest and West Virginia.

Their emergence is a bonanza for predators, including copperhead snakes, who are also eagerly awaiting Brood X’s return to the surface. Birds, squirrels, bats, wasps, mantises, spiders and robber flies are also set to feast on the swarm.

But this time, some US chefs and bug enthusiasts are looking to adopt traditions of entomophagy – the consumption of insects – in both ceremonial and nutritional terms.

Nowhere will the hatching be more intense than around Washington. “Maryland is at the epicenter of the cicada emergence, so there will be spectacular numbers of cicadas emerging very heavily,” Michael Raupp, professor emeritus of entomology at the University of Maryland, known for his Bug Guy blog, told WJLA.

“But the big ‘cicada-palooza’ is going to happen the last two weeks of May and into early June. So in some areas, there will be 1.5 million cicadas per acre emerging from the ground,” Raupp added.

According to a recent report in Indian Country Today, the Indigenous Food Lab in Minneapolis is preparing to revive cicadas as a food source.

Sean Sherman, founder and chief of the Sioux Chef and member of the Oglala Lakota, told the outlet that the non-profit wants to put insects on the menu at his new restaurant, Owamni, opening this month.

“We have all sorts of amazing, diverse proteins across North America. If you’re looking at food from an Indigenous perspective, you really have to include insects,” Sherman, who won the 2018 James Beard award for best American cookbook, The Sioux Chef’s Indigenous Kitchen, told Indian Country Today.

“Edible insects such as grasshoppers are still used in Mexico today; the history of colonialism has stripped away our Indigenous foods, depicting them as inferior,” Sherman said, adding that “people should be open to exploring protein options beyond cows, chicken and pigs.”

The recommendation comes amid increased awareness of the environmental costs of beef, hog and poultry production. In aquaculture, too, the depletion of wild fish stocks and attendant damage from farmed substitutes is forcing the industry to consider other sources of nutrition.

According to “Edible insects: Future prospects for food and feed security,” a 2013 report from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, “edible insects contain high quality protein, vitamins and amino acids for humans. Insects have a high food conversion rate, e.g. crickets need six times less feed than cattle, four times less than sheep, and twice less than pigs and broiler chickens to produce the same amount of protein.”

Besides, the paper continued: “They emit less greenhouse gases and ammonia than conventional livestock.”

Other chefs are planning to follow suit. Joseph Yoon, executive director of Brooklyn Bugs, told the Washington Post he wants to try them at every point in their four- to six-week life cycle. “There’s so much beauty in the unknown,” he said.

Gene Kritsky, author of Periodical Cicadas: the Brood X Edition, said he had tried cicadas sauteed, blanched, in pies and stir fry, though battered and fried with cocktail sauce is best.