The thought of eating something slimy, crunchy, squishy, that has legs, is looking at you, or might bite you back is probably hard to stomach for most of us. The fact is this – insects are most likely going to be the most abundant and easily gathered source of protein, fats, and carbohydrates that you will be able to find in a survival situation. Ounce for ounce, insects have more food value than plants.
There are multiple species of edible insects in every region of the world. Some countries and groups of people even consider some insects to be a delicacy. Most insects are edible and usually more nutritious raw, but cooking them kills any parasites they might be carrying and makes them more palatable. The key is knowing how to catch them, prepare them, and avoid the dangerous/poisonous ones. Many books such as the Kaufman Field Guide to Insects of North America are a great resource to quickly identify different species of insects.
1. Things to avoid. The following are several indications that might tell you an insect is poisonous to eat: bright colors; a foul odor; large, slow, and awkwardly moving around in the open; if they’re feeding on dead animals or dung. This could potentially rule out edible insects, but all of these signs are self-defense weapons and warnings to possible predators that they are poisonous to eat.
2. Where to look. Most insects will avoid the sun during the heat of the day. They can be found in any dark, shady, or moist areas. Look under the bark of trees, in rotting trees, under fallen logs or rocks, inside flowers/pods of plants, or right under the ground surface near bodies of water. Keep in mind that many of these places could also be harboring dangerous animals such as snakes or scorpions (which can also be eaten), so forage carefully!
3. Ants/Termites. These occur almost worldwide and are a great source of survival food. You have to gather a lot of them for it to be worthwhile. Either find a hill and bust it open or probe it with a stick to get them out. I would suggest then knocking them off into a pot/can of water. After getting enough in your can simply boil it and eat it like soup. Some ants can be eaten raw and alive, but they might bite and it would probably take you longer to get calories in your body that way. Other species of ants have highly irritating bites or stings, and, in large numbers, can actually kill you – better off cooking any ants you come across.
4. Grasshoppers, Crickets, and Beetles. These are also very widespread throughout the world. Walking through a grassy field on a warm day will almost guarantee jumping up a meal’s worth of grasshoppers. They can easily be swatted down with a leafy branch, t-shirt, or hat. Remove the antennas, wings, and spurred portion of the legs before eating. Some larger beetles can have powerful jaws – make sure to avoid being bitten. The grubs of these insects are also very edible. They can usually be found a few inches beneath the ground or burrowed into rotting trees. Grubs usually are grayish/white with an orangish head and stumpy legs. These adult and grub forms can be eaten raw, but again, they may be carrying parasites. Roasting them, either via a skewer or on a rock by a fire, is the better tasting option of preparing these critters.
5. Worms, Slugs, and Snails. All of these must be found fresh and alive. Avoid snails with brightly colored shells or ones that look like the “foot” has completely retracted into the shell. Also, most snails found in salt water should be avoided unless positively identified. Any worms, slugs, or snails you find should be starved or only fed safe plants in order for them to flush out any toxins they may have acquired through their regular feeding. They can be boiled or dried in the sun or by a fire on rocks and then ground up into a powder or paste and added to other foods. Doing this will make it easier for you to eat them and will also prevent them from spoiling for a longer period of time.