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Tree crickets among us

The steely buzz, like high voltage from a power line, seems early, like everything does this summer. Yes, Virginia, there are cicadas among us, otherwise known as tree crickets. They’re not locusts, but more closely related to leaf hoppers. Cicadas seem to be the lone creature who doesn’t curl up in a ball and seek shade during the wilting hours of our afternoons. Not him. That’s when the male cicada takes center stage on the limb he chooses as the best one for belting out his love call. He’s a one-note wonder.

I phoned local naturalist John Jackson, owner and head bug man of Bugs-R-Us Educational Services. He confirmed they were indeed cicadas, an annual hatch of the periodical species. They thrive all over the world, except Antarctica, and can you blame them for that? He assured me they don’t do any real damage, though the females produce minimal scarring on branches where they lay their eggs. They use a proboscis to drink sap from woody tissue, but the amount is so limited as to be unnoticeable.

Jackson mentioned that while out in the country, you may see the cast-off exoskeleton of a cicada still clinging to a tree. When their eggs hatch, they fall to the ground as nymphs and burrow below the earth, later excavating an exit tunnel and emerging in another nymph stage. They then molt and become the adults we see, and hear. But don’t try getting next to them for a selfie. Their song can be heard up to four miles away, reach up to 120 decibels, and actually can cause hearing loss, though they would clam up if you got that close. Unlike a true cricket, their racket isn’t caused by rubbing body parts together, but by vibrating chambers in the abdomen.

Then Jackson told me something I didn’t need to hear. He knew where I could find recipes for cicada chili and meat loaf. Meat loaf with eyes. I’ve tried shedding the image. Apparently, these bugs are edible and commonly consumed in many countries.

With his business, Jackson brings his traveling presentations to schools, libraries, retirement homes, birthday parties, sip-and-shreds, etc. His insect talk includes mounted cicadas, but much more. He brings live, touchable insects. Though I question the touchability of a tarantula, he says it’s never bitten anyone. His collection boasts hundreds of specimens from all over the world. Visit his website www.bugsrus.org for a sample of live critters, along with a list of gigantic specimens he shares. If you make it through the list without running for a can of Raid and a hand grenade, be sure to check out the other nature topics he covers, 14 in all.

I should warn you. On the bug program, there are plates of meal worms and crickets to EAT. He claims crickets taste like chicken with potato-chip crust.

“I recently bought my 120th pound of edible bugs. Everybody I offer them to is eating bugs,” John said. He claims no one has refused them. Really? I’ve unintentionally eaten ants when they crawled in my mouth while I slept, but they tasted nothing like chicken.

Beginning Wednesday, July 8, Jackson begins a four-week program through Medford and Central Point parks and recreation on assembling your own bug collection. This is a first, and what a great opportunity for someone other than me. Classes are filling fast. Visit Jackson’s website for numbers to call.

“These are things I’ve played with all my life,” Jackson says. Now it’s his job to play.

So, today I went on the hunt. There he sat in my flowering pear tree, a desperate troubadour. He was dark, about one inch long, and with clear wings. His buzz wasn’t constant as one thinks with a neighborhood full of them, and every three or four seconds he flashed his wings. I’m not sure if it was to add to the show, or to cool himself, but I was impressed.

Peggy Dover is a freelance writer in Eagle Point. Reach her at pcdover@hotmail.com and her Facebook page Peggy Dover-writer.