Just when the noise of the cicadas, their odor and their constant surprise attacks are making their weeks above ground seem as long as their 17 years in hibernation, some Washingtonians have found a way to enjoy them before they vanish.

They are eating them.

"I tried them with mushrooms the other day," said Peter Kranz, a paleontologist and part-time science enrichment teacher in District schools.

Since the current brood of cicadas climbed out of their underground sleeping bags a few weeks ago, Kranz has made it his job to teach students and adults to appreciate, rather than fear, the five-eyed, orange-legged, inch-long, slow-flying bugs. Eating them, as Kranz does, is part of the strategy. "I want {students} to understand them and be comfortable with them before I go to another level of excitement -- cooking them," he said.

Douglass Miller, an entomologist at the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Research Service in Beltsville, also has taken to the joy of cicada cooking. Last week he treated some of his staff to cicada tempura, made with the soft-shelled bodies of the just hatched insects.

"It was a lot of peer pressure," said Susan Diaz, Miller's secretary and one of those who got together for the cicada lunch. "I can't believe I did it, and I was stone sober."

Some scientists believe cicadas are high in protein and very low in cholesterol, which their bodies have a difficult time producing. What fat they have is likely to be relatively saturated, said Michael Latham, director of the International Nutrition Program at Cornell University in New York.

It is not known what harmful effects, if any, eating cicadas may have, Latham and other scientists said. People in parts of Africa and Asia eat some types of cicadas regularly.

But getting 20th century Americans to give them a try is not an easy task.

Most of Kranz's students and the friends with whom he has shared his new cuisine have been reluctant, to say the least.

Alison Klein, 10, a fourth grader at Janney Elementary School, was one of five students in her class to give it a gulp. "It wasn't very good, but some people liked them," she said. "I just wanted to try something different. I only took one bite because I knew I wouldn't like them."

Connoisseurs offer varied recipes: the simplest, which Kranz uses when he cooks for his classes, is the one-minute saute in butter.

For friends and for himself, Kranz tries more exotic concoctions: sugar and cinnamon, or deep-fried with vegetables, or coated with chocolate.

Miller is partial to cicada tempura and cicada tacos. Yesterday he was preparing a variation on a shrimp cocktail as an hors d'oeuvre for a meeting of the Entomology Society of Washington.

Cicadas also are a handy picnic treat, especially if the picnic is being held in a park with a lot of trees. "I've eaten them raw, on the wing as it were," said Kranz.

Some who have dined on cicadas say they taste bland and tend to soak up whatever spice or other food is prepared with them.

Their taste and texture depend on when they are eaten, Kranz said. Just out of the earth, they are crunchy; during the first few hours out of their old skins, they are soft and white. As for adult cicadas, said Kranz, "You just take the wings off. They don't have much fluid in them and tend to cook down into a flat thing. They're not as plump. They're not as juicy. They don't drip."

Kranz, who wrote his doctoral thesis on clams at the University of Chicago's department of geophysical science, works on contract with the District school system, mostly at Smothers and River Terrace elementary schools. He works on a free-lance basis with other school systems in Virginia and Maryland.

He said getting students to try eating a cicada is really a lesson in social psychology. "If someone says 'Yuck,' everyone says 'Yuck.' If you can get someone to try it, more people will."

Kranz admits that introducing cicadas to Washington area diners may be an uphill battle. "Some people just can't get used to it," he said.