Who says there is no such thing as a free lunch? Many of the animals at Brookfield Zoo are just about to get access to all they can eat.

Brookfield Zoo is no exception as the 17-year brood of cicadas emerges from the ground all over Chicagoland. Many of the insects will awake to a nightmare as they surface to find sloth bears, ostriches, brown bears---and zookeepers ---waiting to turn them into tasty treats. In fact, most of the animals in outdoor enclosures are likely to indulge in a cicada snack. Some, like the sloth bears who have torn up their yard and trees in search of insects, will likely gorge until they can eat no more. And keepers will make sure that the indoor insectivores (bug-eaters) get a taste too!

Zoo nutritionists and vets have concluded that the cicadas make a nutritious meal for insectivores at the zoo, so keepers have begun to harvest the bug bounty. Cicadas are high in protein and low in fat—so cicadas will be given to the animals both frozen and live. The novelty is great behavioral enrichment for the animals too, since the “cicada invasion” only happens every 17 years.

"We are leveraging a natural event," says Tim Sullivan, Behavioral Husbandry Manager. "It is exciting for the animals. Letting them hunt cicadas is a great way to give the animals that live inside a taste of the outdoors."

"And for the animals outside, we just have to monitor to be sure they do not eat too many cicadas!"

Plenty of animals will get a taste of the action. Animals that will be given cicadas include:

Animals outdoors that will likely find their own are:
  • Guinea baboons
  • Ostriches
  • Warthogs
  • African Wild Dogs
  • Mexican gray wolves
  • Sloth bear
  • Brown bear
  • Spectacled bear
Inside Tropic World:
  • Callimicos
  • Cotton-top tamarins
  • Golden lion tamarins
  • Capuchin monkeys
  • Spider monkeys
  • Orangutans
  • White-cheeked gibbons
  • Pygmy slow and Slender lorises (off-exhibit)
  • Red-capped mangabeys
  • Sooty mangabeys
  • Sykes guenons
  • Giant anteater
  • Asian small-clawed otters
In Children’s Zoo and Hamill Family Play Zoo:
  • Opossum
  • Raccoons
  • Kestrel
  • Screech Owl
  • Six-banded Armadillo
  • Hedgehog
  • Domestic Ferret
  • Black, Mongoose, and Ringtail lemurs
  • Laughing kookaburra
  • Assorted turtles and tortoises
  • Blue-tongued Skink
  • Bearded Dragons
In Australia House:
  • Short-beaked echidna
  • Bearded Dragons
  • Shingle-back Skink
  • Blue-tongued Skink
  • Prehensile-tail Skink
  • Marine Toads
In Habitat Africa: The Savannah! and The Forest!:
  • Aardvark
  • Dwarf mongoose
  • Pygmy falcons
  • Free-flight Kopje birds (Go-away bird, LB Roller, Superb starlings etc)
  • Savannah monitor lizard
  • Congo Peafowl
  • Blue duikers
  • Yellow-backed duikers
  • Dwarf mongoose
In Fragile Desert:
  • Meerkats
  • Bat-eared foxes
  • Fennec foxes
  • Scorpions
  • Aardwolves
  • Sandcats
In Fragile Rainforest:
  • Small-clawed otters
  • Short-eared elephant shrew
  • Tokay geckos
  • Prevost's squirrels
  • Kinkajou



cotton-top tamarin enjoying a cicada breakfast
Blue-tongued skink enjoying a cicada brunch.
Red-bird-of-paradise enjoying a cicada lunch
Cotton-top tamarin bites off the head of a tasty cicada.
a bearded dragon enjoys a tasty  cicada dinner
A cotton-top tamarin enjoys a cicada breakfast.
A Blue-tongued skink enjoys a cicada brunch.
A Red-bird-of-paradise enjoys a cicada lunch.
A cotton-top tamarin bites off the head of a tasty cicada.
A bearded dragon enjoys a tasty cicada dinner.
Cicada Smorgasbord
Voracious Video
How did the animals react to their first cicada encounters? See for yourself. Cotton-top tamarins, meerkats, armadillos, bearded dragons, and white-crested laughing thrushes have all gotten a taste on-camera.
No Deliveries, please...
On your next visit, watch for animals getting their own free lunch. While we know that everyone will have plenty of cicadas, Chicago Zoological Society staff are pretty picky about what the animals consume and will only use cicadas found by staff on zoo grounds. Please do not bring extra cicadas for the animals.

Chicago Zoological Society / Brookfield Zoo