Ugh! It's started already.

Invasion of the Cicadas.

Or, as one website called it: Swarmageddon.

About 10 days ago I stepped out onto our front porch, headed to the mailbox.

I wasn't watching where I was going. But I did hear a distinctive "crunch" under my foot.

I immediately flashed back to the summer of 2004 when my family stayed a few days in Northern Kentucky to celebrate my niece's high school graduation.

The cicada hordes were everywhere.

Seriously.

They covered entire sidewalks, porches and decks. You absolutely, positively could not step anywhere without squashing a cicada.

Many of them were actually already dead. Once they mate and lay eggs, they've served their purpose. And that's the end of them. So, it was just their carcasses or carapace (outer shell) left behind.

Still, it grossed out kids and adults alike. So we spent a lot of time indoors.

When we returned home from the party 17 years ago, we were relieved to find that only a few of the disgusting red-eyed insects had infiltrated Richmond. Or maybe it simply seemed less daunting after experiencing how excessive they were around Covington.

Fortunately the little buggers are harmless to humans. And even helpful to the environment--since when they die and decompose, their bodies provide needed nitrogen to the soil, helping plants to grow.

Interestingly enough, I've discovered cicadas are also quite tasty. The discovery came from research -- not from actually munching one myself.

But, in case you're an adventurous eater, and feeling rather peckish, the internet is abuzz with recipes for these protein-rich delicacies.

The Travel Channel's Bizarre Foods program says cicadas might appeal especially to diet-restricted folks since they are gluten-free, low-fat and low carb. You just have to get past the "EW!" factor of their appearance on a plate. Maybe eat with your eyes closed.

It probably comes as no surprise that many daring souls who have sampled cicadas liken their taste to chicken.

Some say it has a seafood-like flavor.

Others describe it as "nutty, earthy, sour or salty-ish."

You can fry them. Sauté them. Roast them. Bake them or boil them. Fold them into a gumbo dish. Pop them in the wok. Add some pesto sauce, or butter and garlic. Even smother them in chocolate.

Whatever tickles your taste buds.

Cicadas are plentiful in about 16 states, including Kentucky.

Think millions.

That's because each female lays between 200 and 400 eggs.

If you plan to harvest some for a snack or meal, the early riser catches the cicadas. Take a big bag to scoop them up because you'll need a lot, depending on how hungry you are. Cicadas are only two inches long, tops.

It might take quite a few to fill you up.

Once you bag them, you humanely kill the cicadas by sticking them in the freezer. This sounds better than the treatment of edible worms I witnessed as a reporter at a Wonderful World of Worms Expo in Lexington years ago. There the worms coated themselves by squirming around in batter. Then the cook tossed them into a frying pan filled with hot grease.

After you remove the cicadas from the freezer, you should boil them for two minutes to wash off the dirt and soil bacteria. After all, you don't know where they've been the past 17 years.

Before you add them to a dish, it's best to remove the wings and legs, which apparently come off easily.

If you need more helpful hints, try entomologist Jenna Jadin's 2004 book, "Cicada-licious: Cooking and Enjoying Periodical Cicadas."

Every home should have one.

It's not like eating bugs is something new. Native Americans did it. Other cultures might find ants, locust, grasshoppers, crickets and mealworms delicious.

And, let's face it, even the FDA allows tiny amounts of bug bits in things like flour and tomato sauce.

The cicadas' quirky penchant for living underground for 17 years as nymphs, emerging only to mate, lay eggs and die, has been romanticized as representing personal change--renewal, rebirth and transformation.

Go figure.

Equally likely, it's their way of hiding from predators like birds, raccoons, squirrels, bats and snakes. They don't want their enemies depending on them for sustenance.

It would probably improve their survival rate if their mating call wasn't so loud. Those all-male choruses to woo the women can get pretty noisy with the clicking, whirring and buzzing. It can be deafening at 100 decibels.

In comparison, a chainsaw is 110 decibels.

If I've tantalized your culinary curiosity, eat your fill of cicadas now. They could be gone by the 4th of July

Rest assured, though, there will be plenty more emerging in 2038 when the eggs hatched this year start their own mating ritual as adults. That leaves plenty of time to work up a hearty appetite for this debatable delicacy.

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