Some Edible Species
As this site is about insects, we thought it would be nice to adorn it with a few. The six display drawers below were part of a traveling exhibit put together in 1991 for showing in middle and elementary schools in the Madison area. The title of the exhibit was “Insects as Food in Different Cultures.” To help get the kid’s attention, we loaded as many big, showy insects as possible (all edible in one life stage or another) into the exhibit cases. At a given school, the exhibit would be set up usually on a Monday; then, on about Thursday or Friday, I would show up with a slide show, followed by a question/answer period. Kids in those early age groups can get pretty excited about insects, so these were fun sessions. Later on, we may use the insects shown here to expand a little on the taxonomy and biology of the edible species.
Additional comments on Display Case #2:
Cicadas (Order Homoptera). This order includes many insects, such as aphids and leafhoppers, which are important agricultural pests, but only the cicadas are used widely as human food. Metamorphosis is incomplete. The nymphs of some species, known as “periodical cicadas,” spend up to 17 years underground where they feed on roots. After 17 years they emerge from the soil, climb up a tree trunk or fence post and molt to the adult stage. Periodical cicadas (a complex of six species in the United States) occur as “broods” which appear above ground only once every several years in any one locality. When they do appear, however, it is often in vast numbers. That is when they are collected as food, sometimes even by school children in the United States. They are delicious when fried or roasted to a golden brown! Many cicadas have shorter life cycles, and some of them were collected as food by Indian tribes in what is now the western United States. They are eaten regularly in many other countries, especially in Asia, and some are very large. The cicada from Malaysia shown in this display case has a wing span of nearly 8 inches!
Termites (Order Isoptera). Termites are most widely used as food in Africa. They are social insects with colonies divided into “castes” that include workers, soldiers, winged adults and a queen. Metamorphosis is incomplete. As shown in the display, the queen becomes very large (lower left, right-hand vial), and she lays thousands of eggs. Colonies of some species build huge earthen mounds, called termitaria, which may be up to 20 feet high. Periodically, the winged adults emerge in huge swarms, mate while in flight, and then start new colonies. They are highly attracted to lights, even candlelight, and that is one way they are captured for use as food. The wings are broken off, and, fried, termites are delicious. Even Europeans eat them in Africa. The queens are considered a special treat and are often reserved for children or grandparents.
Bees, ants and wasps (Order Hymenoptera). These are also social insects but they undergo complete metamorphosis. With bees and wasps, it is usually the bee or wasp “brood” (larvae/pupae) that is eaten. Most adult bees and wasps don’t taste good, but there are exceptions. Canned wasps, wings and all, are sold in Japan, and rice cooked with these wasps was a favorite dish of the late Emperor Hirohito. With ants, it is also the larvae and/or pupae that are usually eaten, but not always. Roasted leafcutter ant abdomens are sold, instead of popcorn, in movie theaters in Colombia, South America. In some cultures, bee nests are collected as much for their bee grubs as for the honey.. They are considered a great delicacy! In Mexico, certain kinds of ant pupae, known as escamoles, are found on the menu in the finest restaurants. They are served fried with butter, or fried with onions and garlic.