Doggie Dove Bars

Our dog Toby has been eating cicadas the last few weeks. I limit him to three a day, though if I let him run free and wild amid the arboreal buffet I think he’d top that in a few seconds.

You’ve all heard the cicadas. It’s our signature summer sound in the South. If you have hardwood trees you can hear them rasping in waves. It’s a sharp, rolling, rusty sound. The woods around our house are rich with them, rich in sound–and calories.

When the cicadas sing Toby perks up. He follows the buzzing insects as they fly from tree to tree. If we’re out walking he tracks them to the ground and-crunch, crunch, crunch.  He’s swallowed a cicada treat before I can stop him. Like the famous potato chip, he never can eat just one.

A few years ago when I first noticed Toby’s taste ran to large delta-winged insects I tried to break him of the habit. I carried a pocket full of manufactured doggie treats and tried to lure him back when he was on the cicada prowl. He wasn’t interested. He wanted to eat organic.

I talked with friends about Toby’s habit, and they conjectured that he must be deficient in some mineral or something. A well-adjusted, modern-day suburban animal companion should know better. Maybe I should get him an expensive supplement and add it to his bowl of manufactured grub. Maybe I should get him a session with a dog whisperer.

It took me awhile to accept that Toby knows best. His canine ancestors ate insects for millions of years. It’s a nutritional dance he knows well deep in his genes. Summer ends and the cicadas come. Stock up the body’s pantry, for winter is on the way.  Don’t question what the land offers, even if it comes packaged in a crunchy container with wings.

Cicadas have an interesting life history Toby knows or cares nothing about. His flying appetizers spend their lives burrowed underground as nymphs sucking sap from tree roots. Each year when a different brood emerges as winged insects (their bulky bodies shaped a little like Luke’s fighter plane in STAR WARS) the males sing to draw the females, then mate, and the females deposit eggs for the next brood. Then they die. Around here each brood is underground 13 years. Further up north the broods are bigger and they emerge every 17 years.  It’s a long time to stay in a burrow and end up crunched by a beagle.

I call them doggie Dove Bars, though that’s not quite accurate. Toby is a healthy eater. These cicadas are low in fat and high in protein. A bowl of them would probably be better for him than the kibble he eats at home.

Maybe I should try them too. It’s said the Indians ate them. It’s said when the 17-year crop of cicadas emerges up north some brave, resourceful local foods connoisseurs in Cincinnati try them stir-fried.

“Experts say that the best way to eat cicadas is to collect them in the middle of the night as they emerge from their burrows and before their skins harden,” reports National Geographic.com. “When they are in this condition-like soft-shell crabs-they can be boiled for about a minute. It is said they taste like asparagus or clam flavored potato.”

Maybe Toby knows something. Maybe this whole “eat local” movement that’s sweeping the country is all about us getting in touch with our inner beagle. Maybe we should keep our noses to the ground and see what tastes good. For Toby the trees are alive with the sound of dinner. Why is it considered a delicacy to eat a soft-shelled crab and the cicadas waste away on our front lawns?

Maybe next year I’ll give one a try. Forget the Canadian Bacon. Cicada pizza anyone?

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