Live bugs are a delicacy in a dog’s diet providing not only a tasty morsel, but the thrill of the chase as well. Noisy, buzzy bugs and small, easy-to-catch animals were prime targets for our dogs, including poisonous toads and stinging wasps. Dead bugs didn’t hold as much interest, however, with sun-roasted dead bugs being the one exception.
Dakota found a big dead bug on the deck that turned out to be a cicada. She picked it up and bit into it, then promptly spit it back out making a face as if she’d tasted something very sour. That would have been the end of it but apparently, once it was roasted it became a highly desirable morsel to crunch on.
Humans eat cooked cicadas either fried or skewered, with roasted cicadas being quite the delicacy in some cultures. Our dog must have hailed from one of those cultures because after the sour dead cicada had sat roasting in the sun for two days during the dog days of August, she decided that the dead cicada was roasted to perfection and promptly ate it with a few loud crunches.
Dead cicadas are a multi-purpose dog magnet being good for much more than just a tasty dog snack. A single big, dead bug could provide quite a bit of entertainment for our two dogs: Dakota and Sierra. Two days after Dakota had eaten the sun-roasted cicada, both dogs were rolling in utter ecstasy in the grass. They eagerly took turns rolling on something that I knew must be thoroughly disgusting to create such orgasmic ecstasy.
Upon investigation, I discovered that it was another dead cicada. The bug carcass was nestled down in the grass and their rolling on it would not likely expose them to anything that would stick to their fur, so I stepped back to watch the dogs have fun. In addition, the dead bug shell was tough enough not to squish under their weight.
Apparently that was not good enough for our dog Dakota, who set out to squish the bug in order to access its pungent aromas for their rolling pleasure. She picked up the dead bug and bit on it just enough to weaken the shell, and then dropped it. She and Sierra took turns rolling on it a few more times, with Dakota biting it in between rolls to squeeze out any goo for the dogs to roll on.
The dogs were getting so worked up over this one dead bug that I decided to investigate further. Surely the dried up hull of a cicada couldn’t be THAT interesting. Much to my horror, the carcass of the dead bug had maggots on it and upon taking a sniff, the dead bug carcass had that nasty smell that the dogs acquire in between dog baths. I’d always thought dried up dead bugs were relatively stink-free in regards to dog rolling but now I knew better. Needless to say, Dakota and Sierra got sent up to the deck while I turned the dead bug into a photo opp.
The cicada turned out to be a Dog Day Cicada, also known as an Annual Cicada or Dogday Harvestfly of the genus Tibicen. There are many varieties of Dog Day Cicadas and ours may have been a Tibicen canicularis with the Latin Tibicen meaning flute player or piper and canicularis representing a big dog.
Cicada mating songs do not sound even remotely like a flute, however, being closer to the sound of a very loud buzz saw. From midsummer to fall you can hear the loud buzzing of the males looking for mates and their mating call can reach up to 100 decibels, which is the equivalent of a motorcycle or lawnmower.
Canicula is Latin for the Dog Star which is the star Sirius in the constellation Canis Major — Canis meaning dog and Major meaning large, big or greater. Sirius is the brightest star in the sky and when it rises at dawn, it signals the beginning of the dog days of summer which is that period in July and August when the Dog Star is prominent in the early dawn sky.
The ancient Egyptians discovered that the position of the Dog Star foretold of the rising waters of the Nile River, followed by sickness, burning fevers, malaria, hysterics and frenzies. Even the dogs went mad upon the rising of the Dog Star. The air became tainted with plagues and death, the seas boiled, the grass became parched, and the blasting winds brought pestilence to torment the people. The Dog Star was called the destroyer of life and the dog days of summer were an evil time of disease and pestilence in the old world.
Such was the fear of the rising of the Dog Star that a special festival was held in the hopes of appeasing the angry gods. The god Typhon was associated with the Dog Star and in Greek mythology, Typhon was considered the father of all monsters and even the other gods feared him. Typhon was a winged fury who had the body of a snake topped with one hundred dragon heads and fire flashing from his many eyes. Typhon was not a god you’d want to anger.
In the hopes of soothing the wrath of Typhon who was believed to be responsible for the dog days of summer, the ancient Egyptians would sacrifice a red-haired person. The evil god Typhon himself had red hair and as most of the Egyptians did not, the sacrifice was most often a foreigner who was unlucky enough to be in Egypt during the dog days. The Greeks and the Romans soon took up the custom, substituting a dog for a red-haired person, dogs already being a favorite form of sacrifice.
In the Greek city of Argos, a dog-killing festival was held called the Cynophontis from the Greek cyno meaning dog, and phoneuo meaning to kill, slay or murder. During the dog-killing festival, dogs were slaughtered mercilessly. The Greeks, however, revered the cicada associating it with spiritual ecstasy and immortality. While the cicadas were being idolized, the dogs were being horrifically sacrificed. It is no wonder that a dog would thus take pleasure in the eating of a cicada with such a bloody history between them.
Today, cicadas are a food source for people, dogs, birds, rodents and other small mammals, snakes, lizards, fish and even wasps. There is a species of wasp which emerges during the dog days to prey upon the cicada. It’s called a Cicada Killer Wasp of the genus Sphecius, also known as a Giant Ground Hornet or Cicada Hawk. This is a VERY BIG predatory wasp that lives in the ground. Unlike most hive wasps, the Cicada Killer Wasp is a solitary wasp that rarely stings humans, which is a good thing as this wasp can easily reach an inch and a half long. Their sting is reputed to be much milder than most other bees and wasps and if you don’t bother them, they won’t bother you, so you can garden in peace even during the dog days.
The male Cicada Killer Wasp does not possess a stinger, leaving the female to hunt down and sting cicadas. The sting paralyzes the cicada, which is then deposited into the wasp hole for the wasp to lay an egg on. When the wasp larva hatches, it will feed upon the live cicada.
For each male egg that the female wasp lays, she will need to capture one cicada to provide food for the waspling. Female wasp eggs get two cicadas to feed upon when they hatch. A single female Cicada Killer Wasp will kill more than 100 cicadas in her lifetime, and as you’ll generally find colonies of the wasps in the same area called leks, a typical Cicada Killer Wasp colony can easily clear out 10-15,000 cicadas from the neighborhood in a single month. The adult wasps will feed on flower nectar.
While both dogs and Cicada Killer Wasps are known to feed on cicadas, an even bigger creature feeds upon the wasps: our dog Gypsy Rose. She was an accomplished wasp killer for all the fifteen years of her life, and such was her love of eating a wasp that she was willing to brave their mighty stingers to partake of the delicacy.
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Category: Dog Tails of Adventure