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Beyond the cringe: People are cashing in on cicada invasion
While residents up and down the East Coast are cringing at the onset of the cicada invasion, a few savvy entrepreneurs and businesses are coming up with creative ways to celebrate — and profit from — the rare mass reappearance of the noisy bugs, hawking everything from themed jewelry to teriyaki-grilled cicadas. Fishermen are anticipating a giant delivery of free bait, while pet exterminators say the cicadas may make the rat-catching business a little more lucrative this fall.
Jewelry designer Christine Domanic sells homemade jewelry on her online Etsy shop and says sales of her cicada earrings have doubled since the latest brood emerged this year. Sales of her cicada-themed rings, brooches and necklaces also have spiked.
“My cicada earrings have always been very popular. They are a symbol of good luck and many of my customers give them as gifts,” Ms. Domanic said.
The Hudson, N.Y.-based designer is inspired by nature and often uses insects, birds and animals in her designs. She is working on a handbag line that will feature cicada hardware and zipper pulls.
Though the cicada emergence can help the jewelry business, it doesn’t exactly qualify as Christmas for insect exterminator companies, which may come as a surprise. A spokesperson for Lynchburg, Va.-based Dodson Bros.Exterminating Co. said “no one” offers cicada services, in part because the bugs visit so infrequently.
“They’re seasonal,” said a spokesperson for American Pest Control, based in Athens, Ga. “They run their course and then they’re gone.”
Cicadas are also unreliable: The current brood, which has been patiently waiting underground since 1996, is not expected to peak in the Middle Atlantic region until the middle of this month, and some entomologists are predicting that the District and its heavily populated suburbs will not see nearly the infestation this year that some had been forecasting.
CroppMetcalfe marketing supervisor Eric Tessel said the Fairfax-based contractor, which includes a pest-control division, does not treat cicadas because they exit from the ground and lay eggs high up in the trees where they cannot be reached with a spray. However, they expect to see an indirect increase in business through a significant increase in rodent calls in the coming months.
“Rodents tend to eat cicadas because they’re so much protein. Later on in the year, you’ll see more and bigger rodents,” Mr. Tessel said. “When rodent season comes around, we expect it to be busier because of all the cicadas that have come out.”
A taste of cicada cuisine
The cicadas also offer more options for the culinary arts. Although the thought of eating insects may be cringeworthy, some cicada aficionados are encouraging people to accept insects as part of a normal diet.
“They’re Atkins-friendly,” Gene Kritsky said with a laugh, pointing to the gluten-free, high-protein, low-fat and vitamin-packed nutritional composition of the average cicada. “People think nothing about eating shrimp or paying a lot of money for other arthropod-based foods. Shrimp are like the cockroaches of the sea. And we eat honey — that’s bee barf.”
Miya’s Sushi, a restaurant based in New Haven, Conn., has earned a reputation for its healthy and environmentally friendly dishes. Owner and head chef Bun Lai created cicada recipes this year for those very reasons.
“Cicadas, just like many insects, are tasty and nutritious. They are much healthier than steak or farmed fish,” said the James Beard Foundation Award-nominated chef. “There are no antibiotics used in their production. There’s no need to use fresh water to produce [them] in a world where fresh water is a diminishing resource. And there’s no [need] for grain-based feeds, and so on.”
Mr. Lai also pointed to the high levels of greenhouse gas emissions that are created by raising livestock such as cows and chickens. The point of serving insects, he said, is not for business gain or sensationalism. He continues to turn down every requested TV interview.
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