A Brief History of Entomophagy

**Originally published several years ago as part of my project Arthropodology**

A recent YouTube video about seemingly arbitrary things mentioned how, though we here in the West consider the voluntary consumption of insects to be bizarre and taboo, we are in fact the minority.  The reality is that over 80% of the surveyed cultures on the planet consume insects on a regular basis.  It’s an odd thing when you really think about it.  Why don’t we consume bugs more often than we do?  Why do we have this seeming “natural” aversion to eating bugs whereas other cultures do it readily?  Indeed, many cultures look at our consumption of cow or pig to be bizarre.  Most North American and European cultures will gladly eat lobster, crab, or shrimp, but will run for the high hills if you pull out a deep fried cricket.  Or, Ceiling Cat forbid, a deep fried tarantula!  Why is that?  When did it start?  In a coming YouTube video I touch on these questions and go a bit further.  **Will link when this damned cold goes away and I can finish it**

Let’s start with the assumption that our species is an insectivorious one.  Why would I think that?  Evidence indicates that our closest non-human primate relatives, the bonobos and chimpanzees, regularly consume insects.  This is not incidental consumption, but regular and deliberate.  Gorillas and other primates are known to do this as well.  But that’s not necessarily enough; what about our ancestors?  Cave paintings in Spain dated 30,000 – 9000 BCE depict bee nest harvesting.  This could be indicative of honey or even larval harvesting.  Analysis of coprolites (fossilized poo) found in the Ozark mountains showed the remnants of ants, beetle larvae, ticks, and mites present.     I’ll break that down for you…scientists sorted through fossilized human poop and found leftover bits of insects inside.  Yup.  Cool huh?  😉

Pliny the Elder wrote of the Roman aristocracy’s love of beetle larvae reared on a diet of flour and wine.  Aristotle also got in on the action many years later writing about the best methods for procuring the tastiest cicada “larvae” (modern entomologists would refer to that stage as nymphs).  Silkworm pupae appear to have been consumed in parts of ancient Shanxi, China (~2500 – 2000BCE).

Ancient Romans, Greeks, many Native America tribes, Chinese, Australian Aboriginal peoples, and pretty much every other culture.  Because the West is largely influenced by the Judeo-Christian-Islam sphere of history you might be thinking that somewhere along that history rose a moratorium on the consumption of bugs.  Well, yes, and no.  All three of those religious rely on aspects of the Old Testament.  In those pages are rules stating the acceptability (kosher law) of some foods.  Guess what?  Crickets, grasshoppers, and locusts (winged grasshoppers) are A-Okay by OT terms.  There’s also reference in Exodus of this thing called Manna from Heaven.  Can you guess what that is? That’s actually the honeydew secreted by aphids!  Later on, in the New Testament, the travels of John the Baptist are powered only by the consumption of locusts and honey.  Scrumptious!  But bees, wasps, beetle larvae, and flies are definitely not kosher.

There it is.  Plain as day throughout the history of our species, all across the globe.  So why are we in the West so opposed to it?  To be honest, we’re not sure.  The prevailing hypothesis has more to do with a cultural shift in food acquisition rather than religious taboos.  Approximately 10,000 years ago many cultures made the life altering shift from hunting and gathering to plant and animal based agriculture.  Some cultures became reliant upon the growth and storage of grains while a few became dependent upon cattle and a pastoral lifestyle.  Though this intensive lifestyle allowed for more awareness and control over food production it also have the unfortunate side effect of making our previously mobile societies stuck in one location and thus more susceptible to disease and other previously unknown hardships.  Not only were disease epidemics more likely among human populations, they now would impact our cattle and flocks.  When locusts could once be used as a comfortable source of food, now they were a threat to our crops with the potential to devastate entire fields in days.

From there we see some critters making their way into western diets over the years but mostly they fall by the wayside until now.  There is a push to bring back the bugs.  Some think it’s just a novelty and will never get any full traction among westerners.  But I am hopeful.  With global food, especially protein shortages, projected in our not-so-distant future it is important we explore all avenues of making food readily available.  We need to get over our fear and irrational cultural perception that crickets are the enemy.  They may in fact, be one of the best chances we have at a sustainable and healthy future.

To learn more about the history of entomophagy, current and future prospects check out this FREE book:

Edible Insects: Future Prospects for Food and Feed Security

Published by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations – Rome 2013

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Orlando Film Photography

If you were ever curious if I had hobbies outside of insects and diseases that will make you die, Oregon Trail style, you may be surprised that I do!

I’m actually into film photography. I have a number of vintage cameras from brownies from the early 1900’s to folding bellows cameras, a few 35mm and 120 cameras from the mid century. I even an 8mm and a super 8 movie camera. I’m hoping to find a 16mm eventually. I shall post occasional shots for your amusement.

Below are pictures from Disney World Orlando and Harry Potter land at Universal Studios.

Episode 4: Millipede Mania

Bugs Blood and Bones

Available on iTunes, Google Play, and on its hosting site Podbean.

Today’s episode features my interview with Derek Hennen and where we talk about millions of things…or not quite that manny. Much like millipede legs. And I decide it’s time to get a Nintendo Switch. For perfectly well thought out reasons.

A Trip Down Memory Lane: Season One of The X-Files (part 2)

Yesterday I posted about my first close encounter (har har) with invertebrates on The X-Files.  Ice (S1 E8) is a great episode that should be on everyone’s list of must see episodes.  But season one isn’t done with us just yet.  There is still some buggy goodness to be found in the spooky stories to be told.  In fact, there are two episodes for me to elaborate upon…well, three but that last one doesn’t count…sort of.

Next up…

The X-Files: Season 1: Episode 18: Miracle Man

Basic Premise:  People died! Mulder & Scully to investigate!  This time it’s a faith healing teen and his preacher dad in the middle of it.  Was someone murdered?  Who did it?  Where’s the healer kid?  WTF is going on!?!

This episode doesn’t really focus on bugs really, but they do play a small part.  While in court, the room is swarmed with grasshoppers.  There is a shot of the judge being swarmed by grasshoppers as well as a nice pile of crickets on his desk.  Cut to the courtroom and its filled with some real and many CGI swarming grasshoppers.  This is meant to serve as a representation of one of the 10 plagues of Egypt from the Old Testament.  In fact the next scene is Mulder reading the passage to Scully.  Surprise!  She was raised Catholic and knows all about locusts and plagues.  But did-ya-know that the grasshoppers that were swarming were the only ‘locusts’ in that courtroom?  Crickets are not locusts.  And for you Mid-Westerners out there, Cicadas are not locusts either.

S1 E18: Miracle Man He’s covered in locusts! Okay, less than ten…but creepy bugs right? A plague, a plague!

The Science of the Episode: The insects themselves don’t play any real part in the underlying plot but they are instrumental in moving it along and ultimately solving the crime.  The ultimate logic (again, avoiding too many spoilers) is the insects were lured into the courtroom for nefarious purposes.  Not, as divine retribution as is initially believed.  The items used to lure the critters in I doubt would do the trick, but the premise is solid.  Given the right conditions they could have been coaxed in there.  Good job writers!

This was another great episode as it begins to build some in depth back story for Mulder (beyond basic exposition) and is more Law & Order-like, than Unsolved Mysteries.  It actually feels more like an episode of Scooby Doo for grown ups with some elements of supernatural woo.  But not too much.  The elements of woo are minimal and can be explained logically within the framework of the episode.  I love that about the first few seasons of the show.  Overall, a good episode, not the greatest but I do enjoy it.  It’s in my top 10 for the season.

The next episode to feature creepy crawlies has been one of my favorites of the whole series.  I want to give it its own post so I’ll hold off on that until tomorrow.  So I’m going to skip and make a brief mention about the fourth arthropod-related reference in season one.

Season 1 Episode 21: Tooms

I won’t go into the plot because it has nothing to do with bugs.  Not one bit.  It does have to do with a creepy Captain Fantastic-like man who eats human liver.  No word on the inclusion of fava beans and a nice Chianti though.

So, where does the bug reference come into play?  A nicely built up scene where Mulder sleeps on his couch while Tooms is slowly sneaking into his apartment.  Why was Mulder on the couch?  As far as we know he doesn’t acquire an actual bed until many seasons into the show…but I digress.  This great scene, were we anxiously await to see if Mulder will wake up in time to thwart Tooms is juxtaposed by a scene from a classic science fiction film playing on the TV.  That’s right.  It’s the original The Fly.

That’s it.  See you next season.

That movie poster is simply amazing. I need it.

A Trip Down Memory Lane: Season One of The X-Files (part 1)

I’m a huge X-Files fan.  Seriously.  I devoured this show in all its cooky glory back in the day.  I’ve long been planning a Netflix binge of the series but have been putting it off in order to be a productive adult.  That’s all over!  With news that the series will be brought back for a short stint I decided it’s time to revisit the entire show.  And, whaddya know?  There’s buggy stuff in it!  I’ll post updates as I progress through the series because I KNOW you want to know all about those bugs.  This has actually been pretty fun.  For the most part, the show holds up.  Although, I will admit I cringe now at some of the “science” but that is not restricted to this show by any means.  And, for the most part, the cringe-worthy elements are less painful than on other shows (Bones, I’m looking at you).

I just finished season one and here is a summary of what I noticed.  I may have missed some things because it didn’t occur to me that I should actually be documenting everything I saw…I know, I know.  Bad scientist…

The X-Files:  Season 1 – Episode 8: Ice

Basic Premise: People died!  It was a multiple person, murder-suicide at a research station in Alaska!  Holy crap!  Whaddyagonnado?  Send in Mulder & Scully of course!  The episode itself was meant to be a “bottle episode” meaning a cheap, easy to film, self contained episode.  You need to remember that this show wasn’t considered a guarantee for FOX.  It was running alongside another experimental show (a personal favorite: The Adventures of Brisco County Jr.) and it wasn’t doing so well.  The fact that this show got off the ground and succeeded was not expected.  Every penny spent went up on screen.  There wasn’t anything wasted in that first season.

Back to the episode…A small investigative team is sent to Alaska to uncover the truth of this event.  While up there, they get attacked by a rabid dog, are exposed to weird ancient ice, and people get all pissy for the plot.  And it works!  As I rewatched this I found myself really glued to the screen.  It was the first time I felt completely sucked in.  The acting is great, the set, being cramped and restricted adds to the sense of anxiety and claustrophobia that the characters must be experiencing.  As a 20-year old episode, it holds up quite well.  Without giving away too many spoilers (because if you haven’t seen the show yet you need to go do that…right now.  Go ahead, I’ll wait) there is a parasitic organism that has been transmitted to people/dog and is causing them to act strangely.  “We are not ourselves” we are told early on.  And that’s the point.  Mind controlling parasites!  This is classic science fiction and a well done piece of television history.

No, the microorganism in the episode isn’t an insect, nor is it an arthropod.  But it’s an invertebrate, so I’m counting it.

The “worms”, an unidentified parasite that causes all sorts of havoc. S1 E8: Ice

The Science of the Episode: For the most part it works.  Some cringe-y elements but not distractingly so.  There are examples of parasitic organisms influencing behavior in similar ways.  One example are parasitic flukes (Leucochloridium paradoxum) ingested by snails. Once the fluke enters the snail it alters the snails behavior, causing it to scoot to easily visible locations where its normally benign eyestalks begin to fluctuate.  This movement of the eyestalks makes the snail easily visible to birds.  The birds come along and eat the eyestalks and possibly the whole snail. (Zombie Snails on YouTube)

To be honest, Ice is one of my favorite episodes so far.  As the season progressed I came upon another buggy-related episode that I remembered being a favorite, and it still is.  I put this episode in my Top 5 for season one.  Mulder also gets some great one liner’s in this episode.

S1 E8: Ice The ‘worm’ they used for filming looks to be a mealworm. Mealworms are the larvae of members of the family Tenebrionidae, Darkling Beetles. At the very least the design is modeled after them.

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