Those beady-eyed bugs are back: Cicadas spotted in Northern Virginia

D.C. resident Jacques Tiziou has a taste for cicadas. He collects, prepares and eats the young, winged-insects for brunch. (Video from 2004) (Pierre Kattar/The Washington Post)

And there it was, its beady, blood-red eyes glaring up from the sidewalk, a threat of shrieking hell to come.

Then, with a resounding crunch, Rita ate it.

Rita is a dachshund, low to the ground where a cicada might alight, and a rescue dog at that. Let the record reflect that one of the first ugly bugs of this year’s promised cicada invasion was immediately eaten by a small dog in Springfield.

“She will eat anything and every­thing,” said Rita’s owner, Mary Wright Baylor, “and cicadas seem to be her new favorite. She’s out in the yard looking for more of them right now.”

This season’s batch of cicadas arrived to find a world changed since their last visit. Now there is Twitter, and Northern Virginians were merrily tweeting photos of first cicada sightings Sunday.


The rise and fall of the 17-year cicada

A stroll on Fort Belvoir’s Beaver Pond Trail brought one encounter, photographed and tweeted by the Dobbyn family of Mount Vernon.

Jack Dobbyn, a bigwig in the local Democratic Party, was quick to declare cicadas a bipartisan issue. Personally, he favors them, just as he likes “shad roe and politics,” because they are integral to the natural landscape hereabouts.

One has to wonder whether Dobbyn has personal political ambition, a serious yearning to hold high office, given his next admission: He is looking forward to eating this year’s cicada crop.

“You saute them with lemon and butter,” Dobbyn said. “They are crunchy on the outside, but they’re soft in the middle.”

By no means will this year’s cicadas be the first to wash down his gullet. He developed a taste for them in college and looks forward to each fresh invasion as a gourmand might savor the best truffles.

“You have to clip the wings and legs off before you saute,” he said. “You freeze them before you clip so they don’t feel anything. I don’t want PETA coming after me.”

Like all true veterans of cicada invasions in Northern Virginia, both Dobbyn and Baylor know the Dairy Godmother in Alexandria’s Del Ray neighborhood, where Cicada Crunch Custard is served during those special summers when the bugs emerge.

“Fortunately, I will be out of town then,” said Baylor, whose daughter could be heard gagging at the thought in the background while Rita yowled.

“She’s barking because she’s full of protein,” Baylor said. “Cicadas are very high in protein. A lot of cultures eat them.”

Unlike Dobbyn, Baylor sees the bugs as a pesky nuisance, not a tasty hors d’oeuvre.

“They make a high-pitched sound that can drown out almost anything,” she said. “I think this was the first of many, many, many of them.”

What worries her most is the damage the voracious creatures can do to her garden and the surrounding landscape. Dogwood trees, which are plentiful in her Springfield neighborhood, seem particularly vulnerable, she said.

“In quantities, they can do a great deal of damage,” Baylor said. “They really chew into the dogwoods.”

Precautions have been taken to defend the trees and shrubs, but Baylor seemed unconvinced that even stout defenses could stave off a determined swarm of cicadas.

Maybe Rita can help.

“I walked out and there was the first, sitting on the front walk giving me that evil eye, saying, ‘We’ll be here for the next six to eight weeks,’ ” Baylor said. “Then Rita ate him.”

Related: Cicadas begin to emerge in D.C. region, on Twitter

Ashley Halsey reports on national and local transportation.
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