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Some people from around the world relish raw, roasted, fried, or pickled insects. More....

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Insects are an important part of the ecosystem.  They provide a plentiful source of food for creatures like fish, frogs, spiders, snakes, birds, bats, bears … and in some cases, humans.

There are about 1462 different types of bugs that are safe to eat. WARNING!  EATING CERTAIN BUGS CAN MAKE YOU VERY ILL. Do not eat ANY bug unless an expert tells you it is safe.

A person eating insects on purpose is called entomophagy (pronounced en-ta-MA-fa-gee.) Some residents of Central and South America, Africa and Asia relish raw, roasted, fried or pickled insects. You can get tarantula on a stick in Cambodia, or eat live termites in Botswana. The Japanese eat fried bee pupae served with teriyaki sauce.  You can order a roasted giant centipede online from Thailand (a bit pricey at $13.68 each). You can also sample soy-sauce flavored pregnant crickets, which according to the website are “very crispy and have a slight nutty flavor.”

Locusts for lunch are nothing new.  The Bible (Leviticus) mentioned that it was acceptable to eat locusts, grasshoppers and beetles.  Aristotle discussed which stage of the cicada was tastiest (apparently the nymphs). Shoshone Native Americans beat the bushes to drive grasshoppers into a collection hole, after which the insects were salted and roasted.

Most insects are low in fat and high in protein, carbohydrates and other nutrients. Scientists in Utah did an experiment to see how many Mormon crickets, another insect eaten by Native Americans, they could collect in an hour.  They rounded up 18.5 lbs.  That is the caloric equivalent of 89 chili dogs, or 49 slices of pizza, or 43 Big Macs.  

Many insects have distinctive flavors. Male giant water bugs reportedly have a minty taste, fire ant pupae taste like watermelon, and silkworm pupae are sweet and creamy.  “Big-butt” leaf-cutter ants (Atta laevigata) taste like walnuts.  These ants are popular in northeastern Columbia, where they are sometimes given as wedding gifts (perhaps because they are believed to be an aphrodisiac.)

In Irian Jaya (Papua New Guinea), stinkbugs are a favorite snack. Children climb into trees to find them.  The stinkbugs are then wrapped in leaf bundles and cooked in the ashes of a fire.  When the leaves turn black, the bugs are done.  Roasted stinkbugs supposedly taste a little like whole unsalted sunflower seeds in the shell.  However, Peter Menzel, author of Man Eating Bugs said the flavor was more “like an aspirin saturated with cod liver oil with dangerous sub currents of rubbing alcohol and iodine.”

Some families in Indonesia hunt dragonflies using a thin piece of palm wood smeared with the sap of the Jack Fruit tree.  When a dragonfly lands on the stick, it gets stuck to the sap.  Then the bugs are fried in coconut oil and popped like candy.  In China, people eat water beetles by breaking open the shell (the exoskeleton) and sucking out the insides much like people in Louisiana eat crayfish.

The thought of swallowing an insect may make you gag. But just because there is not a whole bug on your plate doesn’t mean that YOU are not eating bugs every day.  The average human accidentally consumes one pound of insects each year.  The Food and Drug Administration maintains a list of how many bug bits they allow in food.  (All averages are based on 100 grams, or 7 tablespoons of food).

  • Chocolate - 80 bug pieces
  • Macaroni and other noodle products – 100 bug pieces
  • Peanut Butter – 60 bug pieces
  • Tomato/Pizza Sauce - 30 fly eggs or two maggots
  • Frozen Broccoli – 60 aphids, thrips or mites
  • Ground Pepper – 950 bug pieces.

There are about 1462 different types of bugs that are safe to eat. WARNING!  EATING CERTAIN BUGS CAN MAKE YOU VERY ILL.  Do NOT eat ANY bug unless an expert tells you it is safe.  If you have allergies and get sick from eating lobsters or other shellfish, DO NOT try eating any insects.  Do not eat insects that were sprayed with pesticides or were feeding on crops recently treated with pesticides.  Some raw insects may be infected with parasites, and must be cooked first.


Thanks to the Frost Entomological Museum for much of this information. To learn more, here are a few books that provide information on how to cook up bug treats or what kinds of insects people in other countries chow on.



Originally published in the Villager newspapers on June 1, 2007

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