A mother and freelance writer, Meagan loves to research and learn new things. Her biggest passion is sharing those things with other people.
Are Bugs Safe to Eat?
Did you know there are over a million different bugs that have been identified and classified? You cannot go anywhere without meeting a bug or two. However, only about 1800 of those bugs have been proven safe to eat. This means two different things:
- There is an abundant supply of edible bugs.
- There are a lot of bugs that are not edible, and if uneducated about which ones are safe to eat, you could find yourself in a world of trouble.
There are some basic guidelines you can follow that highlight which bugs are typically safe.
Which Bugs Are Safe to Eat?
Brightly colored bugs should be avoided. The bright colors are generally a warning sign to predators; they are poisonous and should not be messed with. However, that does not always mean that darker colored insects are safe.
If your would-be supper is fuzzy or hairy, it might be better to leave it alone. This is especially true with caterpillars. Many of them have hair that can irritate predators.
As a general rule, these bugs are usually safe to eat:
Again, this is just a basic outline of which bugs are safe, but if you are not one hundred percent sure about a potential meal, skip it.
1. Agave Worms
Did you cringe a little? Or did the picture above make you hungry? Believe it or not, they consider this a delicious dish in Mexico.
There are two different types of bugs that spend their younger lives munching on agave plants. Although they resemble a worm, they are not worms at all. The white variety is the larvae of a butterfly, and the red species would—if left alone—mature into a moth.
Where can you find these "nutty"-tasting critters? They're sold by the pound in many markets around Mexico, and they can be found in some expensive restaurants. Most people think of them as the worm that shared their bottle of tequila.
2. Giant Waterbugs aka Toe-Biters
Yep. You heard right. This giant aquatic nightmare earned its name because it has a tendency to attack human toes. However, they would much rather eat other bugs, small fish, or even a baby turtle.
The giant water-bug can be found almost anywhere there is slow-moving or stagnant water. They are identified by the large arm-like pincers on their head and the dangerous beak on their face.
The toe biter will sit and wait for prey to cross its path. Once an unsuspecting victim wanders into the danger zone, they grab it with the pincers and inject a muscle reducing enzyme with their beak. Within a few minutes, the water-bug has a tasty smoothie to slurp up.
While they sound like something straight out of a horror movie, they rarely bother humans—unless your toe gets in the danger zone—and are considered a delicacy in Asian cuisine.
Most often described as tasting like shrimp and licorice, these thumb-sized bugs can be found roasted and displayed in markets, restaurants, and grocery stores around the world.
They have served spiders as a tasty delicacy for years in Cambodia. Several towns offer crispy arachnids to brave tourists, but many locals eat them all the time. This is one way to conquer your fear of these creepy-crawly critters.
Foraged in wooded areas or bred in holes, spiders are collected by the dozens. They can be cooked in many ways, but they are almost always fried. When their legs curl, you know they are ready to eat.
The legs hold little meat and are generally ignored. The head and torso are where the delicate white meat can be found and have been compared to a cross between chicken and fish. If you're feeling adventurous, you can eat the large behind portion of the spider. However, this is where most of the organs and excrement can be found and are found as a brownish goo.
They're crunchy. They're crispy. They're just a little creepy. Head on over to Cambodia and try one today.
4. Palm Weevil Larva
If you live in a tropical climate, you're already familiar with the palm weevil. These beetles can wreak havoc on palm trees. Many farmers hate these bugs with a passion unless they are the type of farmer who grows them.
Take a trip to Thailand, and you might find one of these farmers growing weevil beetles in small shacks. They introduce the beetles to buckets of palm mash or palm logs, but it's not the beetles they are interested in.
Weevil beetles lay their eggs inside palms, and larvae hatch from the eggs. The grubs are what these farmers desire, and they harvest them in bucketfuls. These small, white worms are high in nutrition and proteins, which make them a great solution to world hunger. They taste different depending on how they are cooked, but it's been said they taste like coconut and bacon.
Many countries do not have the resources available to raise large livestock. You must have land to graze them, food to feed them, people who can provide proper care to the animals, and farmhands to help raise them. These things tax our natural resources, but growing weevil larvae is very simple and inexpensive. So much so that other countries have asked Thailand farmers to help them set up weevil farms as well.
Today, you might have to travel to find a weevil meal, but scientists think these small critters could be a future staple in our diet.
5. Giant Ant Larvae
Believe it or not, not everyone hates ants. Some people invite them into their homes as food. Ants can be harvested year-round, but once a year, they provide an even tastier treat to the people of Mexico—their eggs.
Ant larvae—or escamoles—is like cottage cheese in taste and texture. It's typically eaten in tacos and is often compared to caviar.
The black ants create massive colonies beneath the agave cacti. Harvesters can collect the ants' eggs without disrupting the colony too much as long as they leave enough eggs behind to grow into adults.
The next time you see ants marching towards your cupboard, remember this: There are people in different parts of the world who put them in there on purpose.
This one makes a person wonder who the brave soul was that tried this first. Who looks at a bug with up to—or more than—one hundred legs and thinks, "now there's a tasty snack crawling on by!"
But somebody did, and apparently, it was yummy enough to convince hundreds of others to buy them from street vendors around the world. These leggy bugs are skewered, roasted, and displayed by the dozen like giant shish kabobs.
If you're brave enough to try one of these crunchy snacks, you must proceed with caution. Check to ensure the bug is cooked thoroughly before eating it. Like many other bugs, giant centipedes may carry parasites that can harm humans, which is why they should never be eaten raw.
The centipede is a feared predator in the bug world and has been known to take down prey five times its size. It has gnarly pincers that pack quite a bite and a venomous sting. Once the dangerous parts have been carefully removed and the centipede is cooked, they are perfectly safe to eat.
Should We All Eat Bugs?
There are several undeniable benefits to adding bugs into our daily diet. Many scientists have become so convinced that they have started a small movement simply by explaining their reasoning to an open-minded portion of the population.
Eighty percent of the world already uses and eats bugs daily. The people who turn their nose up to eating insects do so because their disdain for insects has been too deeply ingrained. Most of those people would change their minds if they ever gave it a chance.
The proof is in the facts:
- The research that has been done has proven that bugs are a great source of proteins, and with less saturated fat, they might well be the healthier option.
- Besides being a healthier alternative, bugs would not tax our natural resources the way bigger livestock does.
- They are much smaller, so they require much less space to grow. They need not be fed and watered nearly as much—or as often—as larger livestock.
- Many colonies take care of themselves and would not need half as much attention or care, and they provide more food with less investment.
All things considered, one could understand how this could be an interesting solution to a growing problem.
- U.N. Urges Eating Insects; 8 Popular Bugs to Try
From beetles to butterflies and from ants to stinkbugs, people in dozens of countries regularly eat insects. Here are the most popular types of edible critters.
- Entomophagy - Wikipedia
- Is it safe to eat a centipede? - BugGuide.Net
An online resource devoted to North American insects, spiders and their kin, offering identification, images, and information.
- Escamoles - Mexico City | Eat Your World
Escamoles, or ant larvae, is a dish native to Central Mexico, once considered a delicacy by the Aztecs—insect caviar, if you will.
In Cambodia's northwestern town of Siem Reap, visitors can learn to cook spiders and bugs.
- Mezcal worm - Wikipedia
- Splashing out on Giant Water Bugs - BUGSfeed
Meet our Bug of the Week: Giant Water Bugs (Belostomatidae) are are also known as Maeng Da in Thailand, and ‘toe-biters’ in Europe, which might sound like they just enjoy a wee nibble, but rest assured, you don’t want them biting your toes.
© 2018 Meagan Ireland
Meagan Ireland (author) from Maine on September 07, 2018:
I would have a really hard time getting past my feelings about bugs because I have not been raised to eat them, I was raised to run from them, LOL
Louise Powles from Norfolk, England on September 07, 2018:
Yes, I've heard that a lot of these bugs are good for you, but not sure I'd want to eat them lol.