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Daily Plant Masthead

Volume XXII, Number 4389
Thursday, Jan 25, 2007

Edible Bugs

Looking for that perfect high protein, high calcium, low fat snack – crunchy and cheap? Try a toasted cricket dusted with cocoa powder. The average cricket provides 12.9 grams of protein, 5 grams of fat and a whopping 76 milligrams of calcium. Looking for even less fat? Try a June bug: 13.3 grams of protein with only 1.4 grams of fat!

It’s true - bugs are a terrific source of nutrition. But you may be sitting there wincing and thinking “Eeewwww, gross!” You are not alone. Here, in the United States, most people get the creeps just thinking about insects. The thought of putting one in one’s mouth? Repulsive!

But actually, the United States, Canada and Europe are the only places in the world where people do not regularly consume insects. Forget hot dogs and pretzels - one of the most popular and abundant foods sold in street markets in Mexico, Central America, South America, Asia, and Africa are insects.

Numbering over 1500, there is no shortage of edible insect species. You might be pleased to know that only 120 species of insects are harmful to humans or their property. This is a clear case of the good outweighing the bad and first impressions being wrong. The numbers of individuals in each edible species are an enormous potential food resource. Colonies of ants, termites, and bees often number in the hundreds of thousands. Swarms of flies and grasshoppers consist of millions of individuals. Food shortage solution? Let’s bug out!

But you have to learn what bugs you can eat and what you can’t.

For example, while millipedes (actually not an insect because insects have three body areas, 6 legs, and two pairs of wings - but they are still generally referred to as bugs) are vegetarians and do not bite humans, they emit an ill-smelling substance through pores in their sides. Sometimes, this substance contains hydrogen cyanide, a poison. Do not eat! A similar looking bug, the centipede, is predacious, meaning that it hunts prey, and is capable of inflicting a painful bite on humans. However, once the head – and its pincers - is removed, a centipede makes a nutritious, tasty morsel.

In general, red, orange and yellow are nature’s warning colors. Insects that have these colors, such as bees and wasps, sting, bite, or are poisonous to eat. Black, green and brown, on the other hand, are nature’s camouflage colors. Insects with these colors, such as grasshoppers and crickets, generally hide for protection, so they do not have an aggressive means of defense.

So, when you are looking for a quick snack - remember this saying:

Red, orange and yellow,
Forgo that fine fellow.
Black, green and brown,
Go ahead and toss him down.

But, please be warned. Our environment has some problems that can make local bug consumption - in urban, suburban and even rural America - problematic. Most of the land in the United States is manicured or farmed in some way and has some chemicals either applied directly or nearby. Insects can store these chemicals in their fat. But don’t worry, there are many bug suppliers from which to order your healthy, innovative meal.

Don’t be so bug-eyed. Try it!

Written by Bonnie McGuire, Urban Park Ranger Entomologist


THIRTEEN YEARS AGO IN THE PLANT
(Tuesday, January 25, 1994)

A coalition of park leaders and advocates met... to discuss findings from their recently published report “Public Space for Public Life: A Plan for the 21st Century.” Some of the report’s major recommendations include... creating new parks on city-owned vacant lots, and preserving and expanding city-owned urban wilderness areas. The paper also suggests the development of a linked system of 45 greenway routes comprising 385 miles of esplanades, bike paths, and walkways.

QUOTATION FOR THE DAY

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

George Santayana
(1863 – 1952)

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