Today's cicada update: Beilenson says it's not the end of the world

The Buzz

May 06, 2004|By Stephen Kiehl | Stephen Kiehl,SUN STAFF

The ubiquitous health commissioner of Baltimore, Dr. Peter L. Beilenson, called a news conference yesterday afternoon to deliver an urgent message to a panicked citizenry: Chill out.

"It is not," Beilenson said of the cicada invasion that should begin in just a few days, "the end of civilization as we know it."

He then provided a scientific estimate for the number of cicadas that will crawl from the ground in Maryland and attach themselves to trees, screen doors and human hair: "in the billions." But he still claims we have nothing to fear.

"They do not sting," Beilenson said. "They do not bite. They do not hurt humans. They do not hurt animals. They do not hurt trees."

Well, dogs that eat too many cicadas could have intestinal problems, so he suggested perhaps keeping them indoors a little more than usual during the infestation. But for people, he said, cicadas are an excellent source of protein, not to mention Atkins-friendly.

"These guys are totally safe," he said, noting cicadas pose little health threat because they've been underground for the last 17 years, unlike, say, cockroaches, which feed on feces. "But you might want to saute them to make them tastier."

Beilenson and the city's parks and recreation director called yesterday's news conference because their offices have been, um, swarmed with calls from people worried that cicadas will attack them. The only people who really have to worry, he said, are those with big hair, which can entrap the critters.

The health commissioner is not a man without a sense of humor - he likes to release the city's annual statistics on sexually transmitted diseases on Valentine's Day - and he admitted the cicadas would find little to grab on his own balding head.

City officials presented a live cicada for the cameras yesterday, a small brown fellow still in his shell. He was found under a log at the Carrie Murray Nature Center in West Baltimore. Soon, he won't be such a novelty. The ground temperature must be 64 degrees for cicadas to burrow to daylight, and it's almost there.

With 80-degree temperatures forecast for the weekend, Beilenson expects the first cicadas to strike "any day now." And many thousands more should be airborne by May 15.

Panic is not an option.

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