by Blake Newton, UK Extension Entomologist
Entomophagy = the eatin' of insects.
You've probably heard of this phenomenon before, especially if you've watched shows like Fear Factor or Survivor, where cockroaches or tarantulas are often served during the "crazy foods" challenge (they usually show up in a semi-final round somewhere between hundred-year-eggs and sheep's rectum). Here's a video highlight from Fear Factor showing Teller (from Penn & Teller) eating a roach. Or is he?
Yes, insects can be eaten under some circumstances. It's tricky, though, because even if you can get past the ick factor, you also have to consider the danger factor: if you misidentify an insect and eat the wrong species (or prepare it incorrectly), you might have an unpleasant experience. For instance: some caterpillars are edible, while others have stinging hairs and nauseating defensive juices. Also, a tarantula can be eaten, but only if all of the creature's urticating (=sharp) hairs are removed or destroyed. If not, eating a tarantula would be very similar to eating a wad of fiber glass. And here's a cute story: a long time ago, I was watching one of those exotic-foods challenges on Fear Factor (I think...), and the two competitors were trying to see who could eat a live hissing cockroach the fastest. Well, some blond guy won, but he ate the roach so fast that he sliced his tongue open. Cockroaches have really sharp exoskeletons, it turns out. Eating one would be kind of like eating a television remote control, especially if you didn't chew it properly.
As a potential food source, though, insects have a lot to offer. They breed/grow quickly. And as long as they don't have dangerous spines, stingers, or chemicals, they can be nutritious. In fact, edible insects have the potential to be a food-source in hunger-stricken regions of the world. Unfortunately, there has not been much scientific research on the subject of entomophagy.
Currently, a group of international scientists are working together to learn more about entomophagy and its possible role in the fight against world hunger. This month, there is a conference on the subject in Lineville, Alabama. In addition to several talks, there will be a bugfood tasting! Read more about the conference in this PDF. And at the upcoming 2010 ESA (Entomological Society of America) National Meeting, a symposia on entomophagy is being organized. If you are a scientist who is currently working in this area, let us know here on the blog and we will get you in touch with the organizers of the ESA symposia.
And you can read more about edible insects on our website here: