A survival guide to finding bugs in USA that are edible, easy to find and nutritious.
Insects and bugs are commonly listed as tasty items on the menu in foreign countries. Yup - over 2 billion people on this earth choose to eat from a large range of 2,000 edible insects species on a regular basis. What we might consider a creepy crawly, when paired with a deep fryer and some seasonings, might be a tasty delicacy to someone else.
Beyond their popularity in everyday life, they can serve a crucial role in a survival situation in the backcountry. If you are starving, eating bugs might seem like a crazy idea. They vary in their availability, nutritional value, preparation technique and taste. Lets go over some of the most common options that you might encounter on some trails in USA.
Grasshoppers and crickets are the most consumed insects worldwide and for a good reason. They are abundant, easy to catch and packed full of protein. To catch them, just open you ears and listen for the characteristic chirping. You'll find grasshoppers most often during the day and crickets at night.
Preparing a grasshopper or cricket for consumption is simple. Pull off the legs and antenna as they are a choking hazard and twist to remove the head. Here's a helpful tip: you can roast the crickets or grasshoppers over a fire, drop them in a bag and shake them to detach their legs and antenna.
Ants are another insect that is abundant in the woods, which is good because it takes a lot of ants to make a decent meal. Catching them requires the use of bait as an attractant. Use something sweet as a lure or place a stick in an anthill and wait for the ants to crawl up it. Once the ants come onto the bait or the stick, shake them off into your cooking vessel. Boiling is the preferred method of cooking as that'll neutralize the acid the ants use to subdue their predators. If you don't mind their sour taste, you can also eat them raw right away, just make sure they are dead so you don't get bitten.
Larvae are high on the ick factor, but you shouldn't dismiss them without giving them a try. Grubs are relatively easy to find, just pick apart a rotting logs or rilfe through leaf litter. Bee larvae are a bit more challenging to collect as they are found only in an active beehive. You'll need to create a source or smoke to calm the bees and then work carefully and quickly to remove the honeycomb. Once you have collected the grubs, skewer them on a stick and roast them over the fire for a crunchy treat.
Earthworms are another abundant wild edible. Flip a rock or sort through decaying leaves, and you will find them doing their work of decomposition. You can also dig down into damp soil to harvest them, but this method is labor intensive and not a great use of your energy in a survival situation. On a rainy day, you can feast when the worms come to the surface in abundance like manna from the ground.
Because they eat dirt, worms will taste like dirt and can harbor parasites and nasty chemicals from the soi. You should boil them a few times to remove the contents of their digetive tract. Once cleaned, you can roast and eat them or leave them out to dry for later consumption. Dried worms can be ground into a nutritious powder to supplement your meals.
Commonly known as the rolly polly, sow bug or pill bug, the wood louse is one of only a few types of terrestrial crustaceans. Known for its ability to curl up into a ball when it is disturbed, these pill bugs can be found in the damp soil under rocks or rotting pieces of wood. Like most wild edibles, they are the tastiest when they are roasted or fried and have a shrimp-like taste.
Locusts are a close relative to the grasshopper, but they differ in one significant way -- locusts sometimes swarm, while grasshoppers live their entire life as individuals. When the conditions are right, locusts will leave their solitary lifestyle behind and congregate in large numbers, providing a cornucopia of food. Just like a grasshopper, you should cook the locust thoroughly and remove the head, wings, legs, and antenna before dining. Bon appétit.
Say the word cockroach and most people will cringe. Cockroaches have a bad rap, but they shouldn't as they are an essential food source in the wild. Birds eat them, small mammals eat them, and people eat them, too. If you find a roach in the wild, treat it like any other insect. Clean the outsides thoroughly, remove any unsavory parts, and then boil, roast or fry it in a meal.
Adult bees and wasps may be a nuisance at your summer barbecue, but they can provide much-needed nutrition in a survival situation. You'll have to trap the bees before you can eat them so you'll need to create a homemade kill trap baited with something sweet. Once you have collected your bees, be sure to remove the stinger before consuming them. You can roast the bees and eat them whole or crush them into a powder that you can add to a broth or other meals.
If you are fortunate enough to find a hive, you can use a smoky brush fire to calm the bees and break open the hive to remove a piece of the honey-filled comb. Some combs will contain bee larvae which also are edible - a bonus treat to go along with the honey. Pursuing this sweet nectar is only recommended for those who are not allergic to bee stings.
Dragonflies are unmistakable because of their long wings and shimmering colors. They beautiful to look at and tasty to eat. You can capture a dragonfly like they do in Indonesia. Take a stick and coat the end of it with sticky sap from a pine, balsam fir or similar tree. Then use that sticky tip to spear a dragonfly out of the air.
You'll find dragonflies over freshwater pools, ponds, and lakes during the warm summer months. In the spring, these same bodies of water will contain dragonfly larvae which you can harvest using a makeshift net out of a t-shirt and some branches. The larvae can be tossed directly into a frying pan and eaten whole. For the adults, you should remove the wings and fry the body for a yummy snack.
As their name implies, June bugs are seasonal beetles that appear in the spring when temperatures begin to rise. June bugs are nocturnal so you should look for them on plants or on the ground starting at dusk. They attracted to light, so it helps to have a headlamp. June bugs move slowly and are easy to catch. You can eat the adult beetle or the larval form if you are lucky enough to find it. They are best served grilled or sautéed.
People often confuse cicadas with grasshoppers and locusts, but the cicada is an entirely different type of insect. They also have a cyclical life cycle where they will appear in large numbers every 2-, 5- or 17-years depending on the species. The best time to eat a cicada is after it molts. The young adult is tender and packed full of flavor. Cook a cicada just like a grasshopper, cricket or locust.
Known as bush crickets, katydids are similar to crickets and grasshoppers. If you hear a chirping noise at night, it is likely a katydid or a cricket. You prepare a katydid for eating just like you do any other hopping insect - remove the head, wings, and legs and toss them into your cooking vessel.
If you can get past the foul smell of a stink bug, then you will be treated to a very healthy snack. They are high in the B vitamins and may have both numbing and pain-relieving effects. Eating them can be tricky as they can survive the cooking process. Many people just pop them in their mouth and eat them alive. If eating a stink bug alive isn't your thing, you can soak them in water to leach out the chemical that causes their stink and then boil, fry, or roast them.
Termites are the powerhouse of the insect world. Gram for gram, the termite, has the most calories, providing about 6 calories per gram. Most of these calories come from protein and heart-friendly unsaturated fats. Termites digest wood so you will find them in rotting pieces of trees and stumps. They move quickly when exposed so you'll have to be quick to catch them. Termites are often eaten raw as a snack but can be roasted or fried as part of a meal.
Walking sticks aren't the heartiest of insects that you can forage, but you shouldn't pass them up in a survival situation. Because they don't have stingers or unpalatable chemicals, you can collect them and roast or fry them easily. Walking sticks are leaf eaters and as such have a green, leafy taste. Make sure you remove their long legs before eating and save them for later usage. We hear they make a great fish hook in a pinch.
Moth caterpillars are chock full of protein, low in fat, and filled with essential vitamins and minerals. Though young and juicy caterpillars are preferred, you also can eat adult moths. Just remove the wings and roast them on a stick. Though many moths and butterflies are edible, there are some like the Monarch that are toxic. Use your common sense when eating moths or caterpillars and avoid any with bright colors. When in doubt, look for another food source.
Cut off stingers. Most poisonous glands are located near and around the stinger. Remove this and you lower any probability of potential poison.
Watch out for bright colors. Bright colors are usually a warning sign - “I am poisonous; don’t eat me!”. Caterpillars, for instance, are often brightly colored and, in my opinion, too risky to gamble on.
When in doubt, cook it. Cooking will eliminate a lot of potentially harmful bacteria.
Test it. If your options are limited and you are unsure about a particular insect, test it incrementally. For example, eat a tiny piece of an insect (a leg, for example) and wait 24 hours to see how your body reacts. Slowly increase the sample size until you feel comfortable safely eating larger quantities.
Be cautious of slugs and snails - they can feed on poisonous mushrooms.
Be cautious of parasites like mosquitoes and ticks - they can carry some seriously dangerous diseases.
By Kelly Hodgkins and Chris Cage
Chris launched Greenbelly Meals in 2014 after thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail for 6 months. Since then, Greenbelly has been written up by everyone from Backpacker Magazine and Bicycling Magazine to Fast Company and Science Alert. He recently wrote How to Hike the Appalachian Trail and currently works from his laptop all over the globe.
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