What to Know About Eating Cicadas


In this Article

  • What Are Cicadas?
  • Can You Eat Cicadas?
  • Are Cicadas Safe to Eat?
  • Can Pets Eat Cicadas?
  • Are Cicadas Healthy to Eat?
  • Where Can You Find Cicadas?
  • How Do You Cook Cicadas?

Cicadas are one of many insects that are eaten around the world. Although there are some exceptions, cicadas are mostly safe for human and animal consumption. Moreover, many people find that they’re a fun and tasty addition to their meals. 

Cicada nutritional value isn’t well studied, but experts compare them to protein-rich grasshoppers. These insects may not be for everyone, but they’re certainly worth trying once — as long as you don’t have a shellfish allergy or fall into one of the other high-risk categories listed below.    

What Are Cicadas?

Cicadas are a type of insect with a distinct lifecycle. There are a few different species. 

All species of cicada spend anywhere from one year to 17 years underground while they’re still nymphs. They often emerge as large broods.

Soon after emerging, they take on their winged adult forms. These are hard to miss — they can get up to one and a half inches in the U.S. with two-inch wingspans. 

The adults live anywhere from four to six weeks and mate during this time. The females lay eggs in trees. These hatch in six to ten weeks, and the new nymphs burrow into the ground until it’s time for the to begin the process over again. 

The most common time frames for cicada nymphs to stay underground are one year for the annual varieties and 13 or 17 years for the periodical varieties. Other time frames exist as well. You’re likely to see at least a few cicadas every year. 

Can You Eat Cicadas?

Most humans can eat cicadas without any risks. In fact, humans have been eating insects like cicadas for thousands of years. 

Entomophagy is the technical term for eating insects. 

Insects are an environmentally friendly, sustainable alternative to livestock because they don’t require the extensive amounts of land, water, and feed that cows and sheep need. 

In fact, in 2013, the United Nations began promoting insect protein as a global sustainability measure. These days, there are many different kinds of insect powders and snacks available online in the U.S. 

Are Cicadas Safe to Eat?

For the most part, cicadas are not only safe to eat; they’re also good for your health. All species and life stages of cicadas are safe for human consumption. 

There are only a few categories of people who shouldn’t eat cicadas. These include people who: 

  • Have shellfish allergies. Insects like cicadas are distantly related to shellfish, which include shrimp and lobsters. Some people even refer to cicadas as “land shrimp”. You should avoid cicadas if you already know that you have a shellfish allergy because you could easily be allergic to them too. 
  • Arepregnant or breastfeeding. Long-lived insects can accumulate a lot of mercury in their bodies, which can damage a baby’s brain. You’re unlikely to eat enough cicadas to reach harmful levels of mercury, but if you are pregnant, it’s better to avoid them just in case. 
  • Are young. Mercury isn’t good for young children. You don’t want to risk your kids ingesting too much mercury from the cicadas. 
  • Are at risk for gout. Cicadas could cause gout flare-ups. They’re not worth eating if you’ve had problems with this inflammatory arthritis condition in the past. 

Can Pets Eat Cicadas?

For the most part, it’s safe for all of your pets to eat cicadas. Many mammals and birds eat them in the wild, especially when they emerge in massive broods. 

The only danger is if your pet, particularly your dog, eats far too many cicadas. Large quantities of cicadas can cause symptoms like:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Lethargy
  • A bad appetite

You’ll only need to take your dog to the veterinarian if they don’t recover from these symptoms on their own. 

Otherwise, your cat, chicken, or dog is safe to munch away on these tasty insects. 

Are Cicadas Healthy to Eat?

Cicadas are a healthy source of nutrients. There’s little research on the exact quantities of nutrients in cicadas, but they’re very high in protein and low in fat. In general, insects are also a fantastic source of fiber and minerals. 

Experts recommend eating cicadas when they’ve just molted. They’re called tenerals at this stage. Tenerals are soft and white. They’ve yet to grow the hard, dark exoskeleton that the adults have. 

This means that tenerals are your juiciest, most tender option when it comes to eating cicadas. You’ll have to move quickly to catch tenerals, though — they rapidly transition into adults. 

This doesn’t mean that you should never eat adult cicadas. The chitin within the adult exoskeletons can be good for your digestive health as well as your pet’s, but the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) warns that eating too many adult exoskeletons could be irritating or even a choking hazard. 

There’s also a greater chance that adult cicadas will have a fungal infection compared to tenerals. Certain fungi could be unpleasant or dangerous to consume. Inspect the bodies of any adults for signs of a growing fungus before you eat them. 

Where Can You Find Cicadas?

One thing to keep in mind is where you harvest your cicadas. These insects could be in the ground for up to 17 years. This means that they’ll likely absorb fertilizers, pesticides, and any other chemicals that were applied to the ground. 

To avoid eating potential toxins, harvest cicadas away from land that you know or suspect has been treated. Stick to wild places. 

The annual cicadas in particular prefer wooded areas. These tend to emerge in late summer. Other varieties emerge in the spring and summer in the U.S. 

Look around for husks from recently emerged cicadas to find new tenerals. They’re easier to find early in the morning and closer to dusk.  

The simplest way to collect cicadas is to gather them in a paper bag and freeze them for 30 minutes. 

How Do You Cook Cicadas?

Cooking cicadas is a simple task. You don’t have to peel them and can use them in the same ways that you’d use shrimp. 

Some people say that tenerals have a green, nutty flavor, but others don’t think they have much of a flavor at all. This means that you can flavor them with whatever spices or sauces you like. 

Asian and African cuisines tend to use more insects than other cultures. These flavor profiles are a great place to start if you’re not sure how you want to prepare your cicadas. 

There are plenty of options for how you can cook the insects. These include: 

  • Sauteeing
  • Grilling
  • Roasting
  • Boiling
  • Deep-frying

You can also candy your cicadas, cook them in a soup, or throw them on a taco. There are plenty of different recipes available online. Experiment a little and find the dishes that you like best. 

Show Sources


Cleveland Clinic: “Are Cicadas Safe to Eat?”

Entomology Today: “How Do Cicadas Know When to Emerge from the Ground?”

Montclair State University: “Yes, Cicadas are Safe to Eat – and They’re Delicious.” “Experts discuss the nutrition profile of cicadas.” 

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