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Capitalizing on cicadas

In a few weeks, the buzz will be over. No more Janis Joplinesque shrieks from the trees of Baltimore. The cicadas will be gone.

Didn't have time to commemorate their emergence with a keepsake? No need to worry.

Along with thongs, T-shirts, wall clocks and mugs, you can now purchase a cicada carcass and have it shipped to you via Cicadaville.com.

Or so Cicadaville says.

For $5.95, the Cincinnati-based Web site says, it will send customers an "attractive" cardboard jewelry box lined with cotton, and containing, of course, an unpreserved cicada.

"We have opted not to use a spray preservative," says Megan Marconi, a Cicadaville representative, "because it tends to change the appearance of the specimen."

Marconi, who describes the site's cicada selection process as "robust," says staff members "screen out any cicadas that closely resemble celebrities such as Ryan Seacrest, Justin Timberlake ... and John Tesh. Second we look for cicadas that have expired in a dry, shady area." All in order to provide you with a perfect cicada specimen.

But Cicadaville.com, which promotes itself as "America's Cicada Authority," offers another service: humorous misinformation. Its mission: "To reveal the deadly truth about cicadas."

Cicadaville.com's itching to offer you erroneous facts like "Cicadas are vicious killers seething with deadly venom and flesh-eating bacteria." And our personal favorite, another fun non-fact: "Human children are [cicada's ] primary source of nutrition." Brandon Breeden, head writer for the Web site, says he's received "thousands of e-mails" from correspondents pointing out that the site's information is false. But other e-mails, Breeden adds, "thank me for the truth about cicadas the government's been keeping secret."

Perhaps some of those people have spent the last 17 years underground, too. But it is hard to see where the jokes end and the supposed business of selling cicadas begins.

Breeden, co-founder of the "Send a Cicada to a Friend" program, insists his mail-order service is real, saying Cicadaville.com has filled hundred of orders. The online payment service handling the supposed sales, though, put the number at less than a dozen as of last month. So before you take a trip to Cicadaville.com with your wallet open, consider the last sentence of the site's disclaimer: "Please do not be stupid enough to believe anything you read on this site."

Save your credit card for something safer - and more useful, like scraping your own dead cicada off your windshield. We hear it makes a lovely keepsake.

Anything you'd like to share about cicadas? Send it by mail to Cicada Buzz, c/o Features Dept., The Baltimore Sun, 501 N. Calvert St., Baltimore, MD, 21278; or by e-mail to sun.features@ baltsun.com, subject line Cicada Buzz.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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