Thursday, May 24, 2007

Cicadas a tasty treat for zoo animals 

At the Brookfield Zoo, cicadas are a lot more than just really noisy insects: They're delicious treats.

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.

The cicadas are such a welcome addition to the diets of the animals that the zoo is not only letting those that live outside catch and eat them on their own, it is bringing cicadas to the animals that 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.

He said that 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 insects 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.

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