This topic will sound horrendous to most, especially if you are from the United States, but eating insects is practiced throughout the world and has been for centuries.
If you are alone in the wilderness, it isn’t the time to get picky about what you must eat to survive. We would all prefer to catch fresh trout to survive on, but sometimes the reality is that all you have to go on is crawling around you.
While there isn’t a for-sure method of guaranteeing which insects are edible, there are some guidelines that will help you decide whether or not the squiggly, crawly creature you just caught should be included in your diet to survive – after all, you have over 1,400 edible insects to choose from.
The first rule of thumb is to stay away from insects that are brightly colored. They, like brightly-colored amphibians, are actually trying to tell you to “stay away”, probably due to their poisonous nature.
Also, insects that are extremely pungent are another type to steer clear of.
Other types you should not eat include:
- hairy insects
- bugs that bite or sting
- disease carriers (flies, ticks, mosquitoes)
There are a few exceptions to this. For example, the tomato worm is bright green but perfectly safe to eat. Caterpillars are also edible, for the most part, but it would be wise to stay away from the really hairy and colorful ones. Tarantulas are hairy, but are roasted and eaten in some countries. Black ants are edible, but fire ants are not. Bees and wasps are stinging insects, but they are edible and considered tasty.
Scorpions, while not “insects”, are another stinging bug that is often roasted and eaten (remove the stinger first!). Venomous snakes are eaten, but that’s another topic. There are even varieties of flies and mosquitoes that you can eat.
There are 15 orders of insects that you can eat:
- Anoplura – lice
- Orthoptera – grasshoppers, crickets and cockroaches
- Hemiptera – true bugs
- Homoptera – cicadas and treehoppers
- Hymenoptera – bees, ants and wasps
- Diptera – flies and mosquitoes
- Coleoptera – beetles
- Lepidoptera – butterflies and moths
- Megaloptera – alderflies and dobsonflies
- Odonata – dragonflies and damselflies
- Ephemetoptera – mayflies
- Trichoptera – caddisflies
- Plecoptera – stoneflies
- Neuroptera – lacewings and antlions
- Isoptera – termites
What you need to keep in mind is that any insect you are about to eat must be cooked first. Even poisonous insects can sometimes become edible with a good boiling. Insects with hard shells, such as beetles, can have parasites but become edible after cooking.
Remember, you are in a survival situation, so you should be trying to build a fire anyway. Cooking your catch should be easy, so boil, roast, or smoke them. Another benefit from cooking them is that it usually improves the taste – for example, ants have a distinct vinegar taste until boiled. You can also remove the wings, head, and legs of insects to improve taste.
Another factor you must consider is that sometimes the insect itself is edible, but what it has been eating is not. So if an insect has been eating leaves that have been sprayed with a pesticide, for example, you will need to either cook them or “cleanse” them by feeding them fresh greens. A good time limit is 24 hours.
Another big tip is to only eat live insects (alive when you catch them). Dead insects that you find may have been killed by anything, so do not take that chance. You can kill your catch by cooking them live.
So there are some very plentiful insects – such as worms, grubs, termites, crickets – that you can find in most areas. There are literally thousands of them in a square mile, so search for your meal and stay alive.
I’ll leave you with this brief video of Bear Grylls, the host of the show Man vs Wild, eating a grasshopper.