Deep fried insects sold at food stall for human consumption in Bangkok, Thailand.

Entomophagy (from Greek ἔντομος éntomos, "insect(ed)", and φᾰγεῖν phăgein, "to eat") is the consumption of insects as food. Insects are eaten by many animals, but the term is generally used to refer to human consumption of insects; animals that eat insects are known as insectivores. There are also some species of carnivorous plants that derive nutrients from insects.

Human insect-eating is common in cultures in parts of the world, such as North, Central and South America; and Africa, Asia, Australia and New Zealand. Over 1,000 insects are known to be eaten in 80% of the world's nations.[1] However, in some societies insect-eating is uncommon or even taboo.[2][3][4][5] Today insect eating is rare in the developed world, but insects remain a popular food in many developing regions of Latin America, Africa, Asia and Oceania.

Some of the more popular insect and arachnids eaten around the world include crickets, cicadas, grasshoppers, ants, a variety of beetle grubs (such as mealworms), the larvae of the darkling beetle or rhinoceros beetle,[6] a variety of species of caterpillar (such as bamboo worms, mopani worms, silkworms and waxworms), scorpions and tarantulas. Entomophagy is sometimes defined broadly to include the practice of eating arthropods that are not insects, such as arachnids (tarantulas mainly) and myriapods (centipedes mainly).[7] There are 1,417 known species of arthropods, including arachnids, that are edible to humans.[8] The term is not used for the consumption of other arthropods, specifically crustaceans like crabs, lobsters and shrimps.


Other usage

Insects,[9] nematodes[10] and fungi[11] that obtain their nutrition from insects are sometimes termed entomophagous, especially in the context of biological control applications. These may also be more specifically classified into predators, parasites or parasitoids, while viruses, bacteria and fungi that grow on or inside insects may also be termed "entomopathogenic". (See also Entomopathogenic fungi) In ecology, feeding on insects is usually termed as insectivory.


Mealworms presented in a bowl for human consumption.

Before humans had tools to hunt or farm, insects may have represented an important part of their diet. Evidence has been found analyzing coprolites from caves in USA and Mexico. Coprolites in caves in the Ozark Mountains were found to contain ants, beetle larvae, lice, ticks, and mites.[12] This is not unexpected, as there are some deep evolutionary precursors. Firstly, insectivory also features to various degrees amongst primates, such as marmosets and tamarins,[13] and indeed there is some suggestion that the earliest primates were nocturnal, arboreal insectivores.[2] Also, most extant apes are, to a greater or lesser extent, insectivorous.[14][15][16]

Cave paintings in Altamira, north Spain, dated to about 30,000 to 9,000 BCE, depict the collection of wild bee nests. At the time people must have eaten bee pupae and larvae with the honey.[citation needed] Cocoons of wild silkworm (Theophilia religiosae) were found in ruins in the Shanxi province of China, from 2,000 to 2,500 years B.C. The cocoons had large holes, suggesting the pupae were eaten.[12] Many ancient entomophagy practices have been passed down to the present, forming traditional entomophagy.[12]

Current examples

Lollipop with ants.

Entomophagy can be divided into two categories: insects used as a source of nutrients and insects as condiments.[17] Some insects are eaten as larvae or pupae, others as adults. Though not insects, arachnids such as spiders, tarantulas and scorpions are also eaten. A total of 1417 species of insects have been recorded as being eaten by over 3000 ethnic groups. These include 235 species of butterflies and moths, 344 species of beetles, 313 species of ants, bees and wasps as well as 239 species of grasshoppers, crickets and cockroaches, amongst others. Other commonly eaten insects are termites, cicadas and dragonflies.[18]:5 Insects are known to be eaten in 80% of the world's nations.[1]

The commercial exploitation of food insects has led to their decline in some places.[19]

The consumption of Atta laevigata is traditional in some regions of Colombia and northeast Brazil. In southern Africa, a species of moth called Gonimbrasia belina is found throughout much of the region; its large caterpillar, the mopani or mopane worm, is a source of food protein. In Australia, Witchetty grub is considered a source of food amongst the Indigenous population.

Entomophagy has been featured on some reality television shows, such as Fear Factor.[20] Barrington Hall, a former student cooperative at U.C. Berkeley held an annual insect banquet for many years until the co-op was closed down in 1990. The New York Entomological Society held a Centennial Banquet on Wednesday, May 20, 1992 at the Explorers Club in New York. The theme for the evening banquet was the use of insects as food. Appetizers and desserts featured insects in their preparations. The keynote speaker was Dr. Gene DeFoliart of the University of Wisconsin who is a leading authority on entomophagy.[21][22] The Explorers Club itself holds an annual dinner at New York's Waldorf-Astoria Hotel featuring a wide array of unusual dishes including many featuring insects.[23] Theme park operator Six Flags Inc, based in New York, staged a contest as part of a promotion leading up to Halloween in which it also offered customers free entry or line-jumping advantages if they ate a live Madagascar hissing cockroach; the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) opposed the overall promotion. "Insects do not deserve to be eaten alive especially for a gratuitous marketing gimmick," PETA spokeswoman Jackie Vergerio told Reuters.[24][25]


Fried insect pupae[specify] sold by a street vendor in Jinan, China, one with a bite taken out of it.

Insects can be a good source of not only protein, but also vitamins, minerals, and fats. For example, crickets are high in calcium, and termites are rich in iron. One hundred grams of giant silkworm moth larvae provide 100 percent of the daily requirements for copper, zinc, iron, thiamin, and riboflavin. Ants can also contain protein depending on the size of the insect. The smaller the species, the greater the chance of it containing minimal or no protein. Grubs of the sago palm weevil (a staple in Papua New Guinea) are laden with unsaturated fat. Many insects contain abundant stores of lysine, an amino acid deficient in the diets of many people who depend heavily on grain.[26]


The intentional cultivation of arthropods for human food, referred to as minilivestock, is now emerging in animal husbandry as an ecologically sound concept. Minilivestocking suggests that a wide variety of small animals, including arthropods, be reared as nutritious food, the major advantage being that they do not have to be fed on grains thus saving many crop species for human consumption. It is also considered to be much more ecologically friendly than traditional livestocking.[27][28]

Insects generally have a higher food conversion efficiency than more traditional meats, measured as efficiency of conversion of ingested food, or ECI.[29] While many insects can have an energy input to protein output ratio of around 4:1, raised livestock has a ratio closer to 54:1.[30] This is partially due to the fact that feed first needs to be grown for most traditional livestock. Additionally endothermic (warm-blooded) vertebrates need to use a significantly greater amount of energy just to stay warm whereas ectothermic (cold blooded) plants or insects do not.[31] An index which can be used as a measure is the Efficiency of conversion of ingested food to body substance: for example, only 10% of ingested food is converted to body substance by beef cattle, versus 19–31% by silkworms and 44% by German cockroaches. Studies concerning the house cricket (Acheta domesticus) provide further evidence for the efficiency of insects as a food source. When reared at 30°C or more and fed a diet of equal quality to the diet used to rear conventional livestock, crickets showed a food conversion twice as efficient as pigs and broiler chicks, four times that of sheep, and six times higher than steers (oxen) when losses in carcass trim and dressing percentage are counted.[12]

Mexican chapulines

Insects reproduce at a faster rate than beef animals. A female cricket can lay from 1,200 to 1,500 eggs in three to four weeks, while for beef the ratio is four breeding animals for each market animal produced. This gives house crickets a true food conversion efficiency almost 20 times higher than beef.[12] For this reason and because of the essential amino acids content of insects, some people, on ecological grounds, propose the development of entomophagy to provide a major source of protein in human nutrition. Protein production for human consumption would be more effective and consume fewer resources than vertebrate protein. This makes insect meat more ecological than vertebrate meat.

Insects have attractive qualities for food production besides their high energy efficiency. For example the spatial usage and water requirements are only a fraction of that required to produce the same mass of food with cattle farming. Production of 150g of grasshopper meat requires only very little water, while cattle requires 3290 liters to produce the same amount of beef.[32]



In general, many insects are herbivorous and less problematic than omnivores. Cooking is advisable, ceteris paribus, since parasites of concern may be present. But pesticide use can make insects unsuitable for human consumption. Herbicides can accumulate in insects through bioaccumulation. For example when locust outbreaks are treated by spraying, people can no longer eat them. This may pose a problem since edible plants have been consumed by the locusts themselves.[12]

Cases of lead poisoning after consumption of chapulines were reported by the California Department of Health Services in November 2003.[33] Adverse allergic reactions are also a possible hazard.[34]

In the Carnia region of Italy, moths of the Zygaenidae, known for manufacturing hydrogen cyanide precursors in their body, are eaten by children despite their toxicity. The moths concerned are from the brightly coloured day-flying genus Zygaena and its mimic, Syntomis. Cyanogenic glucosides were present in the larvae and imagos (adults) as well as in the ingluvies but in extremely low quantities along with sugar which is found in much higher concentrations. In early summer, Zygaena is very common and easy to catch by hand and the ingluvies serves as a convenient, supplementary source of sugar. Because the ingluvies have a very low cyanogenic content, children can include this resource as a seasonal delicacy at minimum risk.[35]

Cultural taboo

Within Western culture, entomophagy (barring some food dyes) is seen as taboo.[36] There are some exceptions. Casu marzu, for example, also called casu modde, casu cundhídu, or in Italian formaggio marcio, is a cheese made in Sardinia notable for being riddled with live insect larvae. Casu marzu means "rotten cheese" in Sardinian and is known colloquially as maggot cheese. A scene in the Italian film Mondo Cane (1962) features an insect banquet for shock effect. Western avoidance of entomophagy coexists with the consumption of other invertebrates such as crustaceans and mollusks, and is not based on taste or food value.[36]

Within Judaism, most insects are not considered kosher, with only a few species of locust being accepted by certain communities (see Kosher locust). Honey is, however, considered kosher. Some schools of the Islam considers scorpions unclean, but locust consumption is accepted; other prohibit all animals that creep, including insects.[37]

The anthropologist Marvin Harris has suggested that the eating of insects is taboo in cultures that have other protein sources that require less work to obtain, such as poultry or cattle, though there are cultures which feature both animal husbandry and entomophagy. Examples can be found in Botswana, South Africa and Zimbabwe where strong cattle-raising traditions co-exist with entomophagy of insects like the mopane worm.

Unintentional ingestion

In practice, it is not possible to eliminate pest insects from the human food chain. Insects are present in many foods, especially grains. Food laws in many countries do not prohibit insect parts in food, but rather, they limit the quantity. People in rice-eating regions, for example, typically ingest significant numbers of rice weevil (Sitophilus oryzae) larvae, and this has been suggested as an important source of vitamins.[38]

The Food and Agricultural Organisation specifies in the Codex Alimentarius standard for wheat (Codex Standard 152-1985 : Codex Standard for Wheat Flour) that :[39]

3.1.2 Wheat flour shall be free from abnormal flavours, odours, and living insects. 3.1.3 Wheat flour shall be free from filth (impurities of animal origin, including dead insects) in amounts which may represent a hazard to human health.

According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's The Food Defect Action Levels booklet.[40] Contamination on the average of 150 or more insect fragments per 100 grams of wheat flour, or below poses no health hazard.

Other example of the maximum permissible levels of insect contamination in food products for humans, contamination below which level, poses no health hazard, are:

Product Type of insect contamination Maximum Permissible Level
Canned sweet corn Insect larvae (corn ear worms or corn borers) 2 or more 3 mm or longer larvae, cast skins, larval or cast skin fragments, the aggregate length of insects or insect parts exceeds 12 mm in 24 pounds
Canned citrus fruit juices Insects and insect eggs 5 or more Drosophila and other fly eggs per 250 ml or 1 or more maggots per 250 ml
Wheat flour Insect filth Average of 150 or more insect fragments per 100 grams
Frozen broccoli Insects and mites Average of 60 or more aphids and/or thrips and/or mites per 100 grams
Hops Insects Average of more than 2,500 aphids per 10 grams
Ground thyme Insect filth Average of 925 or more insect fragments per 10 grams
Ground nutmeg Insect filth Average of 100 or more insect fragments per 10 grams

See source for information on other food products.

See also


  1. ^ a b Damian Carrington. "Insects could be the key to meeting food needs of growing global population", The Guardian 1 August 2010. Retrieved 27 February 2011.
  2. ^ a b Weiss, M.L., & Mann, A.E. (1985). Human Biology and Behaviour: An Anthropological Perspective.. Boston: Little Brown & Co.. ISBN 0-673-39013-6. 
  3. ^ McElroy, A., & Townsend, P.K. (1989). Medical Anthropology in Ecological Perspective.. Boulder, Colorado: Westview Press. ISBN 0-8133-0742-2. 
  4. ^ Saggers, S., & Gray, D. (1991). Aboriginal Health & Society: The Traditional and Contemporary Aboriginal Struggle for Better Health.. Sydney: Allen & Unwin. ISBN 1-86373-057-5. 
  5. ^ Gordon, David George (1998). The Eat-A-Bug Cookbook. Berkely, California: Ten Speed Press. ISBN 0-898-159-776. 
  6. ^ Global Steak - Demain nos enfants mangeront des criquets (2010 French documentary)
  7. ^ Insects Are Food
  8. ^ Food & Agriculture Organization of the United Nations
  9. ^ Clausen, CP (1940) Entomophagous insects. McGraw-Hill, NY.
  10. ^ Poinar, G.O. 1986. Entomophagous Nematodes. Pages 95-121, In H.Franz(ed.).Biological Plant and Health Protection, Fortschritte der Zoologie, Bd.32.G.Fischer Verlog, Stuttgart, New York
  11. ^ Aristotle J. Domnas and Steven A. Warner 1991, Biochemical Activities of Entomophagous Fungi. Critical Reviews in microbiology 18(1):1-13 doi:10.3109/10408419109113507
  12. ^ a b c d e f Capinera, John L. (2004). Encyclopedia of Entomology. Kluwer Academic Publishers. ISBN 0-7923-8670-1. 
  13. ^ edited by Steve Jones, Robert Martin, and David Pilbeam ; foreword by Richard Dawkins. (1994). Jones, S., Martin, R., & Pilbeam, D.. ed. The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Human Evolution. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-32370-3.  Also ISBN-0-521-46786-1
  14. ^ Tutin, Caroline; et al. (1992). "Foraging profiles of sympatric lowland gorillas and chimpanzees in the Lopé Reserve, Gabon.". Foraging Strategies and Natural Diet of Monkeys, Apes, and Humans: Proceedings of a Royal Society Discussion Meeting held on 30 and 31 May 1991.. Oxford, England: Whiten A. and Widdowson E.M.. pp. 20–21. 
  15. ^ McGrew, W.C. (1992). Chimpanzee Material Culture: Implications for Human Evolution.. Cambridge University Press. pp. 153–154. ISBN 0521423716. 
  16. ^ Goodall, Jane (1986). The Chimpanzees of Gombe: Patterns of Behavior.. The Belknap Press of Harvard Univ. Press.. p. 248. ISBN 0674116496. 
  17. ^ Cooking with Insects: Are Bugs the Latest Culinary Trend?
  18. ^ Ramos-Elorduy, Julieta; Menzel, Peter (1998). Creepy crawly cuisine: the gourmet guide to edible insects. Inner Traditions / Bear & Company. pp. 150. ISBN 9780892817474. http://books.google.com/?id=Q7f1LkFz11gC. Retrieved 2010-04-02. 
  19. ^ Julieta Ramos-Elorduy (2006). "Threatened edible insects in Hidalgo, Mexico and some measures to preserve them". Journal of Ethnobiology and Ethnomedicine 2 (1): 51. doi:10.1186/1746-4269-2-51. PMC 1716161. PMID 17144918. http://www.ethnobiomed.com/content/2/1/51. 
  20. ^ Mott, Maryann. Bugs as Food: Humans Bite Back. National Geographic News. 16 April 2004.
  21. ^ Newman. Judith What is fried and has six legs? Welcome to Insect Cuisine. New York Times. Published on 20 May 1992. Accessed on 02 Apr 2010.
  22. ^ "A short history of the society". New York Entomological Society. http://www.nyentsoc.org/nyes1page.htm. Retrieved 1 April 2010. 
  23. ^ "Eating Maggots: The Explorers Club Dinner". www.epicurious.com. http://www.epicurious.com/articlesguides/blogs/editor/2008/03/eating-maggots.html#?mbid=shine1_eatingbugs. Retrieved 1 April 2010. 
  24. ^ Cockroach Eating Contest at Six Flag Draws PETA Protest:
  25. ^ Cockroach Eating Contest Bugs Animal Rights Activists:
  26. ^ Gordon, David George (1998). The Eat-A-Bug Cookbook. Berkely, California: Ten Speed Press. p. xiv. ISBN 0-898-159-776. 
  27. ^ Paoletti, M.G. (2005). Ecological implications of minilivestock: potential of insects, rodents, frogs, and snails. Science Publishers. pp. 648. ISBN 9781578083398. http://books.google.com/?id=u4eTQgAACAAJ. Retrieved 2010-05-07. 
  28. ^ Oonincx DG, van Itterbeeck J, Heetkamp MJ, van den Brand H, van Loon JJ, van Huis A (2010). Hansen, Immo A.. ed. "An Exploration on Greenhouse Gas and Ammonia Production by Insect Species Suitable for Animal or Human Consumption". PLoS ONE 5 (12): e14445. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0014445. PMC 3012052. PMID 21206900. http://www.pubmedcentral.nih.gov/articlerender.fcgi?tool=pmcentrez&artid=3012052. 
  29. ^ Gordon, D.G. (1998) p.xv
  30. ^ Cornell Science News, Aug. 7, 1997 http://www.news.cornell.edu/releases/Aug97/livestock.hrs.html
  31. ^ Time:Eating bugs; June 2008
  32. ^ Time: Eating bugs (June 2008)
  33. ^ "State Health Department issues health warning on lead-contaminated chaplines (grasshoppers)". California Department of Health Services. 2003-11-13. http://www.applications.dhs.ca.gov/pressreleases/store/PressReleases/03-92.html. Retrieved 2006-12-16. [dead link]
  34. ^ Joel Phillips & Wendell Burkholder (1995). "Allergies Related to Food Insect Production and Consumption". Food Insect Allergies 8 (2). http://www.hollowtop.com/finl_html/allergies.htm. 
  35. ^ http://www.bioone.org/doi/abs/10.2993/0278-0771-29.1.64
  36. ^ a b P. J. Gullan & P.S. Cranston (1994). The Insects: an Outline of Entomology. Chapman and Hall. ISBN 1-405-11113-5. 
  37. ^ http://www.religiousrules.com/Islamfood07otheranimals.htm
  38. ^ R. L. Taylor (1975). Butterflies in My Stomach (or: Insects in Human Nutrition). Woodbridge Press Publishing Company, Santa Barbara, California. 
  39. ^ list of Official Standards of the Codex Alimentarius Accessed 02 April 2010.
  40. ^ "The Food Defect Action Levels". U. S. Food and Drug Administration. http://www.cfsan.fda.gov/~dms/dalbook.html. Retrieved 2006-12-16. 

Further reading

External links

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Look at other dictionaries:

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