Everyone’s favorite topic: eating creepy crawlers, worms grubs, bugs, and insects alike.
Have I eaten insects before? Yes, yes I have. Although admittedly it started off trying to gross people out when I was a kid, usually girls. I’ve swallowed down worms, crickets, grasshoppers, and ants. No spiders though, that would just be gross and wrong.
Okay, I’m not trying to give you plate fright, as insects are certainly a survival food you should be aware of. In fact, in many parts of the world, people eat insects daily and they are even served up as a common street food. Some types are even considered a delicacy.
Hold those eye rolls because I guarantee you have eaten insects or bugs at some point, and I don’t just mean the odd fly buzzing into your mouth or that myth that we eat eight spiders a year in our sleep.
The United States Food and Drug Administration has guidelines that permit a certain amount of insect and bug parts in the food you buy.
In today’s article, I’m going to be covering:
- Why you might eat bugs
- Benefits of eating bugs
- A list of edible insects (as well as some guidelines)
Let’s start though by making an important distinction:
Insects Vs. Bugs
Most people simply call all creepy crawlers or those that buzz around, bugs. For many it doesn’t matter if it is a housefly, beetle, butterfly, ant, millipede, pill bug, spider, or worm…they are all bugs.
But they’re not.
Insects have six segmented legs, three body segments, compound eyes, and antennae. Bugs are a type of insect, and their defining feature is a mouthpiece shaped like a straw.
This may not be entirely imperative to know for this article, but it’s good to learn something new every day.
Why Would You Consume Bugs?
I’d like to start by adding my two cents to this topic, for what it’s worth.
I’m not a huge advocate when it comes to eating insects. Nowadays, eating insects seems to be gaining traction as an alternative food source and it usually has to do in some way with saving the planet. But that’s probably a topic for another day. Also, some research suggests that the properties of some insects and bugs may be beneficial to our health.
However, I’m not totally against eating them, especially in a survival situation where I’m starving. If I haven’t eaten for five days and I catch a handful of grasshoppers and crickets, I”m probably going to be crunching down on them.
Having said that, I think there are better food options available because, if you are in a region with a lot of insects, there’s a good chance that other edibles are around.
Okay, I’ll end my rant there, on with the show.
Benefits of Eating Bugs
As I see it, here are the reasons I would go after insects or bugs in a survival situation:
Insects are incredibly abundant.
It’s estimated that there is ten quintillion buzzing and crawling around the world. That’s a 1 with 19 zeros after it, which looks like this 10,000,000,000,000,000,000.
There are roughly 7.8 billion people on the planet currently and if we do the math, that comes out to approximately 1.2 billion insects per person. That’s a lot of insects!
Insects are easy to catch.
Insects are usually easy to catch and are not as dangerous to hunt down as other wildlife. For instance, digging for worms or catching grasshoppers and crickets isn’t going to be as hazardous as trying to take down a wild pig.
Insects are a nutritious meal.
Lastly, insects are more nutritious than you may think. Pound for pound, some have just as much protein as a piece of red meat and contain other nutrients that include minerals, vitamins, and fiber.
Dangers: Knowing Inedible vs Edible Insects
It’s easy to think that insects pose no threat to us. After all, we are on top of the food chain, so why worry about something that we can easily squash?
Well, not all insects are edible…and some are downright poisonous. This is why it is so important that you know how to properly identify them before chowing down.
Some carry parasites and diseases, like mosquitos and malaria, for example.
Individually, insects may not seem like much of a threat but when they have reinforcements, you better watch out. Ever disturb a bee or hornet’s nest? Yeah, not fun.
Also, even if you are not allergic to certain insects, a person can still have serious health problems if they are exposed to many bites or stings.
There are a few other rules to keep in mind when it comes to which bugs are edible and which ones to stay away from.
While there are always exceptions, a general rule of thumb is to stay away from insects or bugs that:
- Are brightly colored
- Give off a bad odor or bitter taste
- Are hairy
8 Bugs You Can Eat
Ants were the first insect that I ever ate. Probably because they are super easy to catch, and you can find them almost anywhere. I don’t remember what kind they were or even how they tasted, other than they were a bit gritty.
Ants can be gathered up by hand or you can do what some primates do and use a stick to “fish” for them inside of a log or anthill.
Not all Ants are Edible
Not all ant species are edible and some like the bullet ant found in South America, you want to be careful around. The bullet ant has such a painful sting that some people describe it as the worst pain they have ever felt. I have seen bullet ants up close, and I have no intention of invading their personal space.
According to Healthline.com, other poisonous ants that you should not ingest include the Jack Jumper and Fire Ants.
Worms aren’t actually insects or bugs, but they fall under the umbrella of creepy crawlers.
Like ants, worms can be found in a wide range of places, usually in moist areas. You can dig for them in the ground, or find them under rocks and inside rotting logs. You will also have good luck finding them on top of the ground after a good rain.
Worms can also vary quite a bit in size. Some of the smallest measure only a millimeter long while some of the biggest, like the Giant Gippsland Earthworm, can reach six feet long!
Worms can be eaten raw, but like everything on this list, you run the risk of ingesting parasites. It’s always better to cook them first. Plus, by cooking them first, you don’t have to worry about them squirming around in your mouth.
Worms aren’t the best dining experience
Whether you cook them first or not, it’s best to get all of their insides out by squeezing the worm lengthwise between your fingers.
From first-hand experience, I can tell you if you are going to chew worms do it quickly and swallow them down even quicker.
3-4. Crickets and Grasshoppers
I decided to lump these two options together because people sometimes think they are the same, even though there are a few differences.
Grasshoppers were one of the next insects that I tried, and I do remember that quite well. I picked one up off the grass and, without hesitation, popped it in my mouth (which I don’t recommend). It was very crunchy and there was enough goo that it made me gag a little.
Of course, this isn’t the way I would recommend eating grasshoppers. Years later, I tried eating a couple of them differently. I took the heads, legs, and wings off, skewered them with a thin, long stick, and roasted them over a fire. I honestly don’t remember what they tasted like, but I do remember thinking they really weren’t that bad when cooked.
Grasshoppers can be found primarily in grasslands, fields, areas where there are crops, and tall grasses.
Crickets are a bit different from grasshoppers. Crickets are smaller than grasshoppers and tend to be more active at night, whereas grasshoppers are more active during the day, especially in the early morning.
You can find crickets hanging out in warm, moist areas like under rocks, logs, or along water sources where there is damp soil.
As odd as it may seem, in some areas crickets are used to make “cricket flour” for baking, instead of using regular flour.
Both grasshoppers and crickets can fly but in my experience, they prefer to hop away – or I should say jump because they are fantastic jumpers! The best way to catch crickets and grasshoppers is with a net. If you don’t have a net then throwing a t-shirt or another article of clothing over them does the trick as well.
5. Stink Bugs
When it comes to edible insects, one of the number one rules is to avoid eating ones that have a bad smell. However, stink bugs seem to be the exception to the rule.
You’ve most likely encountered these little guys in or around your home during the summer or even into the early fall. And if you’ve ever squashed one then you know how they got their name.
When these insects are threatened or crushed, they release a foul-smelling odor as a defensive mechanism. Interestingly, this odor can also attract other stink bugs in the area, so gently transport them elsewhere unless you want them calling in reinforcements.
Mature adult termites are a source of protein and fat for many people around the world, including in several east African countries. They are extremely abundant in some areas and relatively easy to capture.
If you are having difficulty getting to them inside a log or tree, use a small stick and place it inside. Give a few and the termites will start crawling over the stick. Once you pull the stick out there should be a few termites on it that can be put into a container.
Nothing seems to give people plate fright or the shivers like mentioning eating maggots.
Maggots are actually the larval stage of flies. When a fly visits an acceptable nursery like rotting logs or an animal carcass with rotting meat, they lay their eggs, which turn into maggots.
While larvae are often found in areas that are considered dirty – like rotting meat or manure – the larvae are good to eat. When possible, I would give them a good wash with clean water first, but maggots are full of protein and fat.
Yes, you can certainly eat bees – especially the larvae – but they wouldn’t be my first choice for an obvious reason: bees have stingers.
One sting might not faze you unless, of course, you are allergic to them. However, a bee often has lots of friends hanging around nearby.
I won’t get into the details, but when I was a kid I did something stupid and was confronted by a whole beehive. Luckily, I wasn’t allergic, but I did have tens of stings on my face which was swollen and sore for many days.
Methods for Catching Bees
If you decide to risk it and crawl deeper into a hive to get to the bee larvae, using smoke is a good way of calming bees down.
Catching one to two bees at a time can be done with a simple water bottle with something sweet inside of it. Once they have crawled in, simply screw the lid back on. This is a good method for catching other insects and bugs as well.
Honorable Mention: Pill Bugs
I thought these little guys would be a good honorable mention. Pictured above are pill bugs, also referred to as roly-polies, wood lice, or land shrimp. I always thought pill bugs kind of looked like an armadillo and similarly, pill bugs will roll up into a ball when they feel threatened (hence their other name, roly-polies).
Pill bugs are often found hiding out in areas where you can also find crickets or worms – moist soil, under rocks, leaf litter, and anywhere humid. Like crickets, pill bugs are also nocturnal.
I have never eaten these, but I have heard that they taste similar to shrimp, which makes sense given the other name they go by.
How Should You Eat Edible Bugs
Cooking bugs and insects depend on what you have available and how you want to eat them.
You can put them in a pot of boiling water (let it cool a bit to a cup of warm water before drinking) roast them in a dry pan, put them on a stick and roast them over a fire, mix’em with a sweet sap like maple syrup, or deep fry them – the possibilities are many.
Eating Bugs Raw (Not recommended, but possible)
If you are going to eat them raw, you may want to pull the heads and legs off first – especially the head, as this will kill it and prevent any accidental bites. Worms and grubs should probably be squeezed from one end to the other to get rid of their insides.
One thing is for sure though, the best plan is to cook them. Not only does this make them more palatable, but also safer to consume.
A Few Bugs To Avoid
The monarch butterfly is quite common, easily identified, and is a beautiful sight to watch as it flutters around. But those brightly colored orange wings are there for a reason.
They are a warning sign to others who might be considering making a meal of this butterfly. The monarch is poisonous due to it feeding on the milkweed plant, which is also toxic. If you see monarchs fluttering about, it’s best to leave them be and find something else to eat.
The ladybug is often thought of as a “cute” bug, and they are often depicted as such in children’s books and shows.
These small beetles were among my favorite to play with as a kid as they were easily caught and would slowly lumber about across my fingers before flying off.
Once again, those bright colors are a warning sign to potential predators because the ladybug is not something you want to eat. They have a very bitter taste and, if ingested, they can make you ill.
Why don’t humans regularly consume insects?
It’s estimated that around two billion around the planet regularly consume insects. As to why the other five billion don’t, I can’t say other than most people probably have plate fright and simply view the act of eating them as gross.
Can eating insects make you sick?
Absolutely. As stated at the beginning of this article, insects and other bugs – even edible bugs – carry parasites and other potential toxins.
This is why if you are going to consume them it is best to cook them first rather than eating them raw.
How many insects do you accidentally eat every year?
Amazingly, it’s estimated that a person accidentally eats anywhere from one to two pounds of “flies, maggots, and other bugs each year without even knowing it,” according to Layla Eplett of the Scientific American Guest Blog.
Buzzing Off For Now
Insects and the like are natural foods as billions of people around the world currently eat them.
If trying this source of food seems like something you would like to try, it’s always better to practice before a survival situation happens. Before hopping right into a dish of dry roast ants or deep-fried grasshoppers, it would probably be beneficial to visit a registered dietitian nutritionist.
After you get the go-ahead, you can be like billions of others on the planet by serving a unique dish of insects covered in chili powder right to your dinner table.