By Ryan Cornell
They're the talk of the town. And in many areas of Warren County, their high-pitched droning is loud enough to drown out the talk.
After months of much-hyped anticipation, cicadas finally have emerged from their holes in the ground and infiltrated Bentonville, Browntown and Raymond R. "Andy" Guest Jr. Shenandoah River State Park. It's the first time since 1996 that this graduating class of cicada -- more formerly labeled as Brood II -- has seen the light of day.
Although the insects are harmless to humans and other animals, they're known to damage fruit trees and disfigure young plants.
Cicada expert Eric Day, manager of the Insect Identification Lab at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, said that peach, apple and cherry trees, as well as grapevines, are at risk from cicadas. He said the pests will split apart the twigs and lay their eggs inside, which causes long-lasting damage.
Fresh off a job installing sheetrock, Len Barnhart takes a break at O.J. Rudacille General Merchandise in Browntown. A resident of Chester's Gap, Barnhart describes the insects as a hybrid between a grasshopper and a horsefly. He added they sound identical to the USS Enterprise phasers on "Star Trek."
"I still don't think they're as bad as those stinkbugs though," Barnhart said. "At least these things go away and they don't come back for 17 years."
Tom Lacombe mans the register at his general store. He said he started seeing holes in the ground about a month ago and didn't start hearing them until about two weeks ago.
Another customer stopping by, Steve Whittington, said the cicadas are prevalent around Route 340, where he's working on remodeling a house.
"You see them flying in the trees and they're noisy as all-get-out," Whittington said. "They get all over your truck and they're just nasty."
At Raymond R. "Andy" Guest Jr. Shenandoah River State Park, secretary Donna Ramey has an equally antagonistic view of the bugs. "It's like something from 'War of the Worlds,'" she said, referring to the loud noise.
"I had a yoga group over here complain about them over the weekend," Ramey said. "They wanted us to quiet them down so they could do their yoga stuff."
Part of the fun with cicadas is that they add another food source to the equation, "high in protein" as the old joke goes. Some have described the taste as nutty and almond-like with a creamy texture and a strong bitter aftertaste. Others have compared them to french fries. One article by a Patch website covering Morris Township-Morris Plains, N.J., reported that dead cicadas can be used as fish bait, mulch or fertilizer, an alternative to plastic, a material for arts and crafts or even as a marker for the Monopoly board game.
This year's brood is popularized by how wide its swath is, stretching from North Carolina to New York, but many people are unaware that one of 10 broods surface in Virginia every year, including the perennial dogday cicada. Brood X, the brood that blanketed parts of Northern Virginia in 2004, will return to Shenandoah County in 2021.
Day said this summer's cicadas should be gone in about two to four weeks. Day enjoys his cicadas cooked in rice wine, anise and garlic.
Contact staff writer Ryan Cornell at 540-465-5137 ext. 164, or firstname.lastname@example.org