Know your bugs

Bug of the Week

It can be daunting to launch into a new area of food. Which insects can you eat, and how so?

We don't seek to promote, but we do want to explore – one bug at a time. That's our 'Bug of the Week'.

Here's a list of all of them to date.

Cockroach

Cockroaches, or the irrational psychology of ‘yuck!’

These two web searches speak volumes about our strange attitude to edible insects: search “cricket powder” and see what results come up. Amazon listings, health sites, lifestyle articles on the benefits of this ‘new’ food ingredient that’s changing the way we see protein.

Now do the same search, but replace “cricket” with “cockroach”. Not so nice. Killer powder! Boric Acid! ELIMINATE, EXTERMINATE! It’s like a Dalek has burst out of your screen. Rather than tastefully branded sacks of high-protein cricket powder to adorn the shelves of wholefood shops, a cockroach search brings up pages of tips on how to burn the critters to death with various forms of acid and chemical poison.

So. What’s all that about? And are cockroaches actually just as edible as crickets?

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Locust

Plague or plenty? Why the locust is also a prawn of the sky

When you consider that the phrase ‘plague of locusts’ is basically shorthand for ‘really awful’, it might seem that advocates of eating these bugs have a difficult task.

But language is an interesting thing. Don’t ‘sky prawns’ sound lovely?

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Wasp

The Wasp – friend, foe or delicacy?

Wasps. Popularly thought of as ‘useless’. No honey. No pollination. And they don’t even have the good grace to die when they sting you. But listen: vespula flaviceps don’t deserve their bad rep.

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Termite

Stuck underground: the Termite

There’s something slightly alien about termites. Their crooked chimney-stack nests protrude like giant earthy fingers from the ground, ingeniously sucking in cool air and so ventilating the underground hive.

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Cricket

Eating Crickets – a bit dull or the next big thing?

The simple cricket. Well, no. Nothing’s simple in the insect world. There are 900 species of cricket. They’re spread all over the world and are easily confused with the katydid, the grasshopper, and the cicada. You might know them best for their ‘stridulations’ – this romantic chirping to attract potential mates is made by the males rubbing their legs together.

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Cockchafer

Seeking Romance: the Cockchafer

The beautiful May Bug, with its comical antler-like antennae and fuzzy face, used to be a common sight across the European continent. Specifically it was melolontha melolontha, or the ‘European Cockchafer’.

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Grasshopper

Chirping in the background – the Grasshopper

A new type of grasshopper was discovered recently. Trapped in amber, over 20 million years old, it was promptly named after the naturalist David Attenborough. He said he was “tickled pink” to receive such an honour.

Electrotettix attenboroughi. Photo: Zookeys, licensed under CC BY 3.0

20 million years may sound impressive but grasshoppers have been around much longer than that. Easily confused with crickets and katydids, these are the stridulating ones; rubbing hind leg against forewing, they chirp away on summer evenings – and in the background of every film set in small-town America, ever.

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Asian Giant Hornet

The Yak Killer: the Asian Giant Hornet

For some people this insect is the stuff of nightmares. A hornet is a very large variety of wasp, and the Asian Giant Hornet is, as the name implies, the biggest of the lot. Also known as the ‘yak killer’, it’s notoriously aggressive and kills around 40 people a year in Japan. If you see it, you run, because vespa mandarinia’s venom is delivered via a ¼ inch stinger and can dissolve human tissue; a few stings can kill you. It is said to feel like a “hot nail being driven into your leg”, according to a Japanese entomologist. To top it all off, the venom contains pheromones that send out signals to any nearby hornets, encouraging them to come and finish you off.

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Palm Weevil

Live near a rotting palm? Pop goes the weevil!

One delicacy you’ll find in many tropical countries is the palm weevil. These are large beetles, with hard shiny shells. Most types are black but the one found across the Asian continent is dark red with black markings. Though not as impressively war-like as the stag beetle, they’re pretty tough-looking creatures.

Before the weevils look like this though, they spend months as larvae and then pupae - like large, fat white worms, they’re what might be called ‘grubs’.

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Mealworm

From bait to plate – the versatile little mealworm

Mealworms are actually not worms at all but larvae of a beetle which has a fondness for meal, or grain. This beetle belongs to the family of Darkling Beetles - sounding like something straight out of Harry Potter! There are various kinds but all look beautifully beetle-like - a black, shiny serrated back and crabby little legs.

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