Liz Dugan of Takoma Park never did work the bugs out of her wedding plans. The invitations were trimmed with pictures of cicadas; the tent, festooned with bug kites. A few ice cubes featured the frozen creatures, and the cake was topped with a cicada replica wearing a jewel-studded crown.

"Cicadas have been a recurrent theme in my life," explained Dugan, 34, a physician who was married yesterday in a small, at-home ceremony.

Dugan is beginning her married life at the end of what observers agree has been the cicada's most talked-about showing.

She was born in 1953, a year when the insects emerged from their 17-year sleep. In 1970, their next appearance, she and her classmates gathered on the lawn of the Bryn Mawr School in Baltimore for graduation pictures. In the photos, they are smiling, holding daisy baskets and wearing long dresses that appear to be covered with polka dots. The polka dots are bugs.

It seems only fitting now, Dugan said, that she and the cicadas are again experiencing one of the high points of their lives. "We have a bond," she said.

They were pests, they were pets, they were media stars. Now that the billions of cicadas in the Washington area have dwindled to mere millions, it is time to look back at all they inspired: the horror, the wonder, the amusement. It's time for a cicada retrospective.

They were diverting, all right.

At Greenbrier State Park in Washington County last week, a hundred campers joined in a chorus of "Happy Birthday" at the Cicada Festival. They sang "Beautiful, Beautiful Red Eyes" and "The Sound of Cicada" (a reference to the males' roaring, rasping mating song). Then they had a cicada-calling contest and buried a time capsule to be unearthed in 17 years.

At East Silver Spring Elementary School, second graders wrote haiku, or Japanese verses, about cicadas. At the Children's Community Pre-School, also in Silver Spring, a parent designed commemorative T-shirts for the youngsters: gray with a black-and-orange bug emblem and the slogan "Cicada 1987." In Greenbelt, a radio station gave away a Volkswagen bug to the listener who delivered the most cicadas; the promotion incited at least one soft-hearted critic to protest that "the tragedy of the cicadas is our tragedy."

Douglass R. Miller, normally a rather conventional entomologist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, found himself cast in the role of celebrity cicada cook. In one memorable sequence on a Baltimore talk show, Miller prepared cicada tempura with two female impersonators who were also guests on the show. Only one of his assistants sampled the dish; the other declined on the grounds of being a vegetarian.

The bugs lent themselves to many such imaginative, sometimes foolish, endeavors. Their looks certainly helped: those red eyes, that oversized body, the clumsy flying that sent them dive-bombing into people's hair.

Then there was their behavior. First, they crawled out of coin-sized holes in the ground, where they had been for 17 years. Next they hooked onto trees and molted, becoming milky-looking creatures with trembling wings. A few hours later, their new skin hardened and turned brown and their wings inflated, enabling them to fly -- sort of. Finally, they went stumbling off in search of mates.

They were playthings for children, handy snack treats for dogs, birds, opossums and the more adventurous humans, and objects of disgust for many.

"I was a little apprehensive about how people would react," said Gaye Williams, an entomologist with the Maryland Department of Agriculture.

"I had visions of the entire public going out and pouring poison all over the place," she said. "A small segment of the population was going to kill them, no matter what. But most people said, 'Oh, they're really neat. Here they've been down in the mud for 17 years. They've come out for a little party, a little wine and dine, a little sweet talk. Give 'em a break.' "

Sometimes, they did intrude.

For example, the College of Notre Dame of Maryland decided to hold its graduation ceremonies indoors this spring for the first time since the Baltimore school opened in 1873.

"The cicadas could jump from gown to gown, tassel to tassel, with no regard to rank or degree," Sister Delia Dowling, the academic dean, explained in a letter to seniors. "They could help themselves to the vegetable dip, cheese and punch. They could drone so loudly that the 262 names {of graduates} could not be heard. They could upstage our commencement speaker, Gov. Martha Layne Collins of Kentucky."

Nobody argued with that logic. The ceremonies were held at the Lyric Theater in downtown Baltimore.

Officials at Baltimore's Bryn Mawr School had been warned not to venture outside on graduation day. After the 1970 graduates were bombarded by cicadas, then-headmistress Diane Powell wrote a letter to school officials addressed "to whom it may concern in June 1987." The message: Don't try it.

Miller, Williams and other entomologists told of dozens of callers who telephoned for advice on outdoor events, listened dismally to the experts' spiels, then opted for banquet halls and community centers.

Some people went to great lengths to avoid the creatures, entomologists said.

A night student at the University of Maryland at Baltimore said that she regretted that she had not undergone hypnosis to ease her fear and that she planned to hole up indoors during the cicadas' six-week spree, Williams said.

Dave Dardzinski of Brown Honda in Arlington described the sickening process of dislodging cicada parts from the grillwork and radiators of cars, and the reactions of car owners who had long since ceased to appreciate the bugs' place in nature.

Cicadas also were blamed for a traffic accident. A Northern Virginia man who said cicadas suddenly flew into his car slammed into a utility pole in Arlington, causing $20,000 in damage and knocking out electricity to 50 homes. He was not injured.

Even the president had something to say about cicadas. In his weekly radio address yesterday, President Reagan said the cicadas were as bad as big spenders in Congress. "Almost everyone agrees things will be much more pleasant when the cicadas go back underground," Reagan said.

But residents of areas without cicadas apparently felt left out of all the fun. In The Times-Crescent, a Charles County weekly, columnist Merle Turner described waiting patiently for the cicadas' appearance in her neighborhood.

"Then Aunt Dorothy in Temple Hills happened to mention the annoyance of the noisy little bugs in her yard," she wrote. "Radio, television and newspaper reports told how folks in Annandale and Beltsville were appropriately disturbed by the cicadas' mating sounds and dead shells on the sidewalks. And I realized that we would not hear the sounds for which we had so long been prepared, we'd only continue to hear about them. That's disappointment!"

They'll be back.

The year will be 2004. By then, a half-million more people will be living in the Washington area, according to the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments.

Dugan, the Takoma Park bride, will turn 51 that year. She hesitates to speculate what experience she and the cicadas will share. "They say women go through a whole new life in their fifties. Who knows?" she said.

By now, most of the eggs have been laid and most of the cicadas have died. At her Bowie home, entomologist Williams is left with her 10 rolls of film, her eight rolls of color slides, her three hours of videotape, and her memories.

"There was something magical about them," she said. "I was out videotaping one night and I came across a forsythia bush. The little animals were molting. They were like hibiscus buds hanging down from every leaf, their wings like wet tissue. They were perfectly still, and the light was cast just right, and there was even a little mist.

"I miss them already," she said.