- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 1, 2004

Local insect experts are savoring the scent of dead cicadas as the red-eyed bugs’ decaying carcasses pile up by the thousands around the region each week.

“Yes, they do smell,” said Nate Irwin, director of the Smithsonian Institution’s Otto Orkin Insect Zoo. “But as a biologist, I find it reaffirming. It tells me that things are pretty good in the natural world.”

Mr. Irwin said that, for most people, cicadas “are a nuisance in areas where there are a lot of rotting bodies … [but] I’m disappointed my neighborhood hardly has any carcasses.”

Gary F. Hevel, a Smithsonian Institution entomologist since 1969, said residents shouldn’t blame the bugs for smelling bad.

“They don’t have much choice,” Mr. Hevel said. “They just drop down to the ground and there they are.

“I don’t like the smell, but I realize it’s a good thing,” he added. “It’s a natural cycle of nutrition that benefits every organism.”

The Washington area and other regions in the eastern United States have been beset by Brood X cicadas — thumb-sized, winged insects that emerge from the ground by the millions every 17 years to mature, mate, lay eggs and die over several weeks. Having reached their peak, the cicadas now are dropping like flies — and are leaving a distinctive odor in their wake.

“I’m not complaining,” said Gaye L. Williams, an entomologist with the Maryland Department of Agriculture. “I mean, it’s dead insects. It’s just background smell to me.”

Some people in the District yesterday disagreed with the bug experts, comparing the odor to that of “rotted meat.”

“It’s not something I would choose to smell,” said Abby Mansfield, a 23-year-old AmeriCorps volunteer. “It’s a pungent, decaying odor.”

“I like to catch the live cicadas, but I think the dead ones are ugly,” Miss Mansfield added.

David Reeder, a 46-year-old Fairfax resident, said, “They’re everywhere. It’s a little on the pungent side.”

Miss Williams, who has an “I Brake for Cicadas” bumper sticker on her pickup truck, said residents can reduce the number of carcasses by trying not to kill the cicadas.

“Give them a chance,” she said. “If you see them on the ground, pick them up and put them on a tree.”

She said many cicadas are being killed on area highways because “they are not strong fliers.”

“Turbulence from vehicles bounces them all over the highway like so many leaves until they get smashed,” Miss Williams said. “It’s a real bummer.”

To get rid of the rotting corpses, Mr. Irwin recommends “sweeping them up, putting them in the trash, burying them in the garden, or putting them on a compost heap.”

The entomologists said the cicadas will probably be active for a few more weeks.

“The cicadas are still having a lot of fun in Bowie, which I think is really cool,” Miss Williams said. “They’re flying, mating, egg-laying.”

She added with a sigh, “I’m still searching for the elusive blue-eyed cicada. I’ve got lots of silver, tan, black, orange, blood-red, the whole spectrum. But no blue cicadas. I found one 17 years ago, so I know they exist.”

Mr. Irwin said, “It’s a really exciting phenomenon. I know a lot of people are worried and afraid, but I say let’s celebrate it.

“If there were no cicadas in 2004, something would be very wrong with the natural world.”

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