Loyola Magazine

The cicadas are coming, the cicadas are coming… or are they?

David Rivers, Ph.D biology professor and department chair shares his insight on the insect

In 2004 as the Baltimore area braced for the arrival of the 17-year cicada, Loyola’s alumni relations staff contacted David Rivers, Ph.D., to ask for advice.

“They were going to set up a bunch of eating stations all over the Quad, and they said, ‘What if we had cicadas in all of the food?’” recalled the professor of biology and department chair. “And I said, ‘That would be kind of cool.’ They didn’t seem to think so.”

When the cicadas came, the shrill of their song near campus was almost deafening, Rivers said. “But what wasn’t realized in 2004 was we had two species of cicadas, instead of one. If you picked one up, you could tell by the size and the membranes.”

Here are a few things you may not know about cicadas—and Rivers himself:

Where the cicadas will be this summer:

“The anticipation is that they will be mostly restricted to the southern part of the state and into Virginia.”

What could bring cicadas to Baltimore?

One reason would be that the cicadas could have had a shift in the cycle. If they count years by counting seasons, then they might count a spring with a heavy frost as two years, throwing off the 17-year cycle. “That’s why there’s buzz that’s taking place with this particular group,” Rivers said.

Another reason would be that cicadas could have been moved when topsoil is removed and redistributed when farms or other land are converted into home developments.

But you don’t believe we’ll see them here?

“Baltimore City is going to be disappointed, probably. We’ll have our annual cicada.”

When should we see the 17-year cicadas again in Baltimore?


And until then where are they buried in the ground?

“They can be more than a foot beneath the soil,” he said.

What is the focus of your research?

“I don’t really think you want to know. My primary research is forensic entomology. So when you’re watching one of the crime shows, there are the flies that feed on bodies, and the wasps that feed upon the flies,” said Rivers. “I have a cow head skull that’s sitting outside the science building right now. I have fetal pigs that I’m sitting out this summer. We’re going to be doing some research on the flies that colonize the fetal pigs.”

Is it true that you feed your students insects?

“We used to have a picnic for the seniors where we conducted Biology Fear Factor. When the television show was going on, we could get students to do anything. One event in particular was putting a fly maggot in your mouth and spit it for distance (spitput!). Nobody ever said no. It was actually amazing to me—the idea that you’re putting a maggot in your mouth and spitting it. One actually spit it 30 feet.”

Can a maggot make you sick?

“The idea of putting a maggot in your mouth—it’s just disgusting. But is there any risk? No.”

And you hold cockroach races?

“In my general entomology class the semester ends with doing cockroach racing. And we also do insect eating that day as well.”

Insect eating?

“I have a cookbook that’s based on eating insects. They all find it gross, but they want to taste it. We dip crickets in chocolate, they taste like chocolate. We use mealworms for several other recipes including a stir fry.”

Do you have any good cicada recipes?

“Well, the cookbook does have several. I did try some in 2004.”

So what do they taste like?

“They’re very, very sweet because when they were in the ground, they’ve been eating the roots of trees. It’s like eating crunchy honey in some sense.”

Do you study cicadas?

“I don’t do cicadas, but I do find them fascinating. I never view the world the same way anybody else does. There’s a fungus that’s actually associated with the 17-year cicada that I’m actually more interested in.”

Do the students in your classes get excited about insects?

“Biology is something that the instructor doesn’t have to work very hard to get the students excited because nature does such cool things.”