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These bugs really get under your skin

With the cicadas on the way out, soon to retreat for another 17 years burrowed beneath our feet, a few admirers are making sure the boisterous little beasties aren't soon forgotten. If the infestation of 2004 isn't burned into their minds, it's at least forever etched into their skin.

They've gotten cicada tattoos.

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At the Baltimore Tattoo Museum in Fells Point, those who are willing can have the image of a cicada engraved on them, which is definitely more painful (but probably less disturbing) than having a live cicada land on you.

The bug tattoos don't number quite as many as the fleetingly ubiquitous critters they represent. By their estimate, the artists at the museum have only done a handful. The design was something co-owner Bill Stevenson, 40, whipped up at the spur of the moment for the artists and their close friends and customers to commemorate the emergence.

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The going rate for the buggy body art is between $50 and $100 for sizes ranging from 2 1/2 inches to 5 inches. The tattoo itself resembles an elongated heart shape with a head jutting out. Scrawled across the wings: 2004.

"I love the whole cicada thing," Stevenson said. "Back in 1987, that was my first exposure to them. Since I didn't make one then, I thought, 'Why not now?'"

However enthralled he may be by the cicadas, Stevenson doesn't wax philosophical about the cultural significance of drawing commemorative bugs on people's bodies.

"I'm a tattooer and I love to tattoo," he said. "I just thought it would be a neat little thing for our friends and customers."

This isn't the first time the workers at the Baltimore Tattoo Museum have come together in the parlor's five years of operation to celebrate an event by drawing on each other. On New Year's Eve of 1999, the employees met at the parlor and celebrated Y2K by giving each other the hobo symbol for "safe camp."

While the actual cicadas may not vary much in appearance, the tattoo versions get a touch of personalization to set them apart. Best of all: no noise.

"We do them in different colors, ones that the cicadas themselves don't necessarily have," said Chris Keaton, the parlor's other co-owner. "There was one that was black-and-white. Some of them have space helmets, some have a skull and crossbones on them."

For those who have gotten them, it's another glyph on their fleshy mosaic. Like most other people with hobbies or fixations, those with a bent for tattoos will not find it hard to create reasons to add to the canvas.

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"For me, it was more having something that is unique to Baltimore, and this was something that comes around only every so often," said the multi-tattooed Ray King, 30, a bartender who lives in Woodbridge.

King had his green, yellow and orange cicada likeness inked on his wrist. "It was less about the cicada and more about the time and place." He then joked, "I do plan -- if everything goes well -- to get one every 17 years."

The design doesn't seem like something one would choose for a first foray into the world of tattoos. But bug enthusiasts or first-timers will not necessarily be turned away, even after the cicadas are gone.

Stevenson conceded that he wouldn't want to be doing too many of them after Brood X take its leave, but if asked, he probably would do a few. If not, don't fret, there's always 2021.


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