Billions of cicadas will invade the US east coast in the coming weeks (Reuters)

Billions of cicadas are about to invade an enormous area of the eastern United States - but rather than worry, nutritionists and cooks are drawing up recipes for cooking and eating the locust-like insects.

The insects, which have been dormant in the soil for 17 years, are expected to emerge imminently to overrun hundreds of thousands of square miles stretching from New York state through Pennsylvania and Virginia as far south as Tennessee. Experts said they would outnumber the human population by 600 to one.

The insects have been underground since 1996 and will hatch in order to mate. They will then disappear again until 2030.

Some Americans, however, are planning to take advantage of the insects' brief appearance by regarding them as a tasty treat rather than an unwelcome pest.

The Cicada Invasion blog highlights the benefits of the insects and has suggested a recipe for cicada tacos.

"Most experts agree that cicadas are a rich source of protein with about the same amount per pound as red meat. Cicadas are also said to be full of vitamins and minerals, low in fat, and they have zero carbs. So why aren't more people eating them?

Two billion people worldwide already eat insects as part of their normal diet (Reuters)

"Maybe because the thought of eating a bug makes you dry-heave? But if you think about it, shrimp and crayfish are pretty much cicadas without wings. Crayfish, lobster, crabs, shrimp, and insects are all part of the same biological phylum of arthropods.

"Brave (or crazy folks) say cicadas are crispy and crunchy, with a nutty, almond-like, flavour. Iroquois Indians have a long history of eating cicadas and considered them to be a delicacy."

The site said the best time to eat cicadas was just after the nymphs break open and before the exoskeleton becomes hard. The blog suggested removing the head, legs and wings and sautéing them in a frying pan with butter, garlic and basil.

Eating cicadas has also been suggested by the Smithsonian Magazine, which provides step-by-step tips on how to gather and cook the insects.

Isa Betancourt, an entomologist at Drexel University in Philadelphia, told NBC that cicadas are a "rare delicacy, the shrimp of the land".

UN report says Western acceptance of insect eating will depend of pricing and perceived benefits (Reuters)

She said: "They are arthropods, which means they have an exoskeleton. We regularly eat the arthropods of the sea and those are the shrimp, lobsters and crabs."

The swarm of cicada recipes comes as the UN has urged more people to start eating insects.

A report said that two billion people already supplement their diets with insects as they are a good source of protein and minerals, especially for undernourished children.

It said insects were a much more efficient food source than cows. They produce fewer greenhouse gases and live on human and food waste.

The report said: "Insects can contribute to food security and be a part of the solution to protein shortages, given their high nutritional value, low emissions of greenhouse gases, low requirements for land and the high efficiency at which they can convert feed into food.

"In the Western world, consumer acceptability will be determined, in large part, by pricing, perceived environmental benefits, and the development by the catering industry of tasty insect-derived protein products."

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