On the morning of June 1, 1885, a newspaper reporter hungry for a story stopped by the home of Charles Valentine Riley on 13th Street NW.

Riley was the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s chief entomologist: a bug expert. He was just finishing his morning meal when a servant ushered in his visitor.

“Bring in some hot ones,” Riley said to the servant.

Soon, the journalist was presented with a “spoonful of dark brown objects like very small fried oysters.” Underneath a crust of breadcrumbs was something that resembled “a very small shrimp.”

“What do you call it?” the journalist asked.

“The cicada,” Riley answered. “Don’t be afraid of them. They are only the quintessence of vegetable juices, and everything in nature feeds upon them ravenously.”

Every 17 years, the U.S. media feeds on stories about eating periodical cicadas, a surefire way to gross out readers, viewers and listeners. That article about Riley — reprinted in dozens of papers across the country — was surely one of the first.

The entomologist must have been aggravated by the headline: “Locusts for Breakfast.” Riley spent a lot of time telling people that cicadas were not locusts. Of course, he ate those, too: Rocky Mountain locusts, which in the 1870s devastated the Midwest.

“He spent a whole day eating nothing but locust dishes,” said Donald C. Weber, a research entomologist at the USDA and co-author of a 2018 biography of Riley. “He was a showman. He was definitely someone who liked to get attention.”

Said Gene Kritsky, a biology professor at Mount St. Joseph University in Cincinnati and author of “Periodical Cicadas: The Plague and the Puzzle”: “Riley had a good sense of PR.”

Riley was born in England in 1843 and came to the United States as a teen. Working on a farm allowed him to indulge his fascination with insects. Brilliant and headstrong, he came to Washington in 1877 after serving as chief entomologist for the state of Missouri.

Two weeks after the article about his cicada meal had spread, locust-like, across the country, Riley backpedaled a bit, claiming the story was exaggerated. When a reporter from the Cleveland Plain Dealer stopped by his office, Riley said: “Well, there was some foundation for it, but I never expected it would be published in the way it was. There seems to be a great desire to make a sensation out of everything these days. I am getting afraid of newspaper people on that account.”

Said Kritsky: “I think Riley may have thought [the story] put him in a bad light.”

The other night, Jimmy Kimmel mentioned Kritsky on his show, saying the cicadas were coming and this entomologist was ready to eat them — never mind that Kritsky hasn’t eaten them since 1987. (Sauteed in a stir-fry.)

“This is to me is a teaching moment,” Kritsky said. “Yes, it’s gross to some people. At the same time, people have been eating cicadas for millennia.”

Said Weber: “As Riley pointed out, we have some kind of funny prejudices about food. We think nothing of eating shrimp, crab and lobsters — which are arthropods, like insects — but when we come to insects, a lot of people don’t want to consider eating them.”

Count me among those people. I guess I wouldn’t make a very good entomologist, or as I’ve come to call them, eat-’em-all-ogist. It always seems to be the bug experts who are eating the bugs.

During the last appearance of Brood X, cicadas were served at an open house in the USDA’s entomology lab in Beltsville, Md.

“There were two types,” Weber said. “My favorites were the white ones, or so-called callow adults. That’s when they first come out of their nymphal shell. Those were served tempura-style. They were wonderful.

“The hardened adults — the ones we see flying around — were just baked. I have to tell you, I wasn’t too fond of those.”

I had to ask: Isn’t it a bit ironic that the main proponents of snacking on cicadas are the very scientists who study them? It’s like if a marine biologist said, “Here, have a nice slice of dolphin.”

“I’m not sure it’s ironic,” said Weber. “I think in the case of, say, marine mammals, dolphin scientists have an appreciation for how precious and rare and closely related we are to those sentient beings. They might be reluctant [to eat them]. Entomologists realize that insects are abundant. . . . I’d like to think that entomologists are imaginative people and want to put good ideas to work.”

Perhaps. But I won’t be knocking on their doors at breakfast-time.

Snug as a bug

There’s still time to enter my Cicada Poetry Contest. Your poem can be in any style, as long as it’s no more than 17 lines long. Send it — with “Cicada Poem” in the subject line — to me at john.kelly@washpost.com. The deadline is Monday.

Twitter: @johnkelly

For previous columns, visit washingtonpost.com/john-kelly.