Yum! Cicadas a tasty treat for zoo animals

Brookfield Zoo Cicadas
In this photo released by Brookfield Zoo in Brookfield, Ill., a cotton-top tamarin munches on a cicada turned loose in its habitat.Jim Schulz / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

At the Brookfield Zoo, cicadas are a lot more than just really noisy insects: They're delicious. These days, a host of animals from bearded dragon lizards to African wild dogs to white-crested laughing thrush birds are enjoying cicadas.

And zoo nutritionists — not to mention the mothers of all those lizards, dogs and birds — don't have to worry. Although the cicadas emerging this month after spending 17 years underground may seem like candy to the animals — crunchy on the outside and soft in the center — they're actually health food.

"They're extremely nutritious and won't impact their (animals') diets because they don't have a lot of fat in them," Tim Sullivan, the zoo's behavioral husbandry manager, said Friday.

In fact, the cicadas are such a welcome addition to the diets of the animals, the zoo is not only letting those who live outside catch and eat them on their own, it is bringing cicadas to the animals who live inside so they can enjoy them, too.

"We've substituted cicadas for crickets and meal worms that some of the other animals get," Sullivan said.

Sullivan said since the cicadas started coming out of the ground in big numbers the last few days, animals all over the zoo have been seen eating them, often as soon as the cicadas emerge.

The only losers are the cicadas themselves. But Sullivan suggested that if they have to go — and they are going to die in about 30 days even if they do avoid being eaten — a zoo is as good a place as any.

"Getting eaten by exotic animals is a better way to go than being eaten by a squirrel or a crow," he said.