Tag Archives: insects

June Bugs are Edible

It’s already the time of year where June bugs are flying to my porch lights, much to the glee of my cats, who enjoy these fun toys.

June bugs are not known widely as edible, but according to one or two sources, they were food for some California Indians.

Bear River Indians ate June bugs (Nomland 1938:111). They were roasted in a fire and eaten immediately (Nomland 1938:111).

June bugs / June beetles, specifically including the white-striped June beetle
(Scarabaeidae: Polyphylla crinita and P. spp.), were listed by Essig (1931) as insects eaten by the California Indians.

Polyphylla_olivieri_Laporte_de_Castelnau,_1840_(3887609658)

June beetle: Polyphylla sp.

Essig may have determined this based on Nomland’s (1938) ethnography of the Bear River Indians. That is the only other source I have found listing June bugs as food for the California Indians.

Unfortunately, neither source mentions whether the adults or grubs were eaten. Presumably, they refer to the adults since they are commonly encountered, whereas the grubs live underground feeding on roots.

I’m confident the grubs are edible also, as  related grubs in the scarab family, such as the rhinoceros beetle, are edible, and also live underground.

Essig, E.O. 1931. A history of entomology. The Macmillan Company, New York, NY.

Nomland, Gladys Ayer. 1938. Bear River ethnography. Anthropological Records 2(2):90-126. University of California Press, Berkeley, CA.

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Ants as Native Californian Cuisine

California Indians caught ants by spreading a damp skin or fresh-peeled bark over ant hills, which immediately attracted ants to the surface (Sutton 1988). When the skin or bark was covered with ants, it was carefully removed and shaken into a container where they were confined until dead, and then they were sun-dried and stored (Bodenheimer 1951).

The Nisenan and Achumawi were known to eat ants (Olmsted and Stewart 1978, Wilson and Towne 1978). Mono Lake Paiute ate the larvae of ants (Sutton 1988). Ant eggs, pupae, larvae, and adults are all edible and eaten by many aboriginal cultures worldwide (Bodenheimer 1951), thus it is likely the California Indians ate all these life stages.

Surprise Valley Paiute gathered ants “early in the morning when they were all bunched on the top of the hill” (Sutton 1988). Since ants carry their pupae to the top of the mound in the morning when the sun hits it, this may suggest the Paiute were aware of this activity and exploited it to easily collect the pupae, which are probably the preferred ant food. Alternatively, the gathering of ants was conducted in the early morning since they were less active then. Ants were frequently collected during the frozen winter (Sutton 1988), perhaps for the same reason, or since other food was scarce at the time.

Some Indians dug out ants, larvae, and pupae (the latter two being probably erroneously called eggs), and winnowed them to boil alone or with other foods (Sutton 1988). Ants were sometimes ground into flour for storage (Sutton 1988). Ants were preferred even to grasshoppers by the Northern Paiute since they contained more fat (Sutton 1988). Ants were killed with live coals then eaten dry, or stored to later thicken soups (Sutton 1988).


The larvae and adults of carpenter ants (Camponotus spp) were enjoyed by California Indians, according to John Muir (1972). The heads of the adults were bitten off and spat out and the “tickly acid body” eaten with enjoyment (Muir 1972). Carpenter ants were dug out of their nest early in the morning when it was still cold by the Western Shoshone (Sutton 1988), perhaps allowing gathering with fewer stings. The ants were winnowed from the soil with a basket, killed with hot coals in a parching tray, and boiled into a mush (Sutton 1988). These ants are very large: probably the reason the Indians preferred them. However, their nests harbor fewer individuals than those of smaller ants.

A few weeks ago, I collected a few dozen carpenter ant workers and drones. I broke apart the their wood log nest, and put down wet paper towels over the swarm, which they clung to, biting. I then flicked them off the paper towels into a cooler with a few inches of cold water, where they drowned or were cooled into immobility. I fried them in a pan with a few drops of oil on medium for about a minute, then ate them whole and plain. The workers have a great lime flavor and a nice crunch. The drones don’t have that zingy flavor (lacking formic acid glands and stingers), but taste mild and nutty. Overall, they were a great snack that was easy to collect.

Honeypot ants (Myrmecocystus spp.) are found in the deserts of Southern California, and are known to have been eaten by Southwestern US Indians and Mexican Indians (Bodenheimer 1951, Sutton 1988). Specialized “nurse” or “replete” workers of this ant, living in special chambers of the nest, store “honey,” or a very sweet solution, in their greatly engorged abdomens to regurgitate to other ants in times of famine (Bodenheimer 1951, Sutton 1988). These nurse ants were collected by Indians and eaten or alcohol or medicine (Bodenheimer 1951). I wouldn’t try to go dig up a nest without some serious expertise on their nest structure though. One professional entomologist in Arizona spent 12 hours digging an 8 foot trench in the desert to get just a few handfuls of repletes! If anything, this testifies to the supreme ecological knowledge of hunter-gatherers, especially regarding the hymenopterous (bees, wasps, and ants) nesting and reproductive biology.

REFERENCES:

Bodenheimer, F.S. 1951. Insects as human food. Dr. W. Junk Publishers, The Hague, The Netherlands.

Muir, J. 1972. My first summer in the Sierra. Norman S. Berg, Publisher, Sellanraa, GA.

Olmsted, D.L. and O.C. Stewart. 1978. Achumawi. In Handbook of North American Indians Vol. 8: California, eds. W.C. Sturtevant and R.F. Heizer, p. 228. Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC.

Sutton, M.Q. 1988. Insects as food: aboriginal entomophagy in the Great Basin. Ballena Press anthropological papers: no. 33.

Wilson, N.L. and A.H. Towne. 1978. Nisenan. In Handbook of North American Indians Vol. 8: California, eds. W.C. Sturtevant and R.F. Heizer, p. 390. Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC.

Foraging Class at Strawberry Canyon

I just finished teaching another foraging class, the third one so far. I host them in the SF Bay Area (usually the East Bay Hills) through meetup.com (Bay Area Foragers). This one was at Strawberry Canyon by UC Berkeley. If you’re in the Bay Area, please join us next time!

Leading the Bay Area Foragers class at Strawberry Canyon

Leading the Bay Area Foragers class at Strawberry Canyon

Here is the list of species (common / scientific names) we saw and discussed uses for on today’s walk. It’s just from memory so I may have forgotten a few things.

Plants:

hazelnut / Corylus cornuta
California bay laurel / Umbellularia californica
buckeye / Aesculus californica
horsetail / Equisetum sp.
storksbill / Epilobium sp.
yellow curly dock / Rumex crispus
madrone / Arbutus menzeisii
blackberry / Rubus ursinus, R. armeniacus
thimbleberry / Rubus parviflorus
toyon / Heteromeles arbutifolia
mustards / Brassica sp.
thistle / Cirsium sp.
coast live oak / Quercus agrifolia
teasel / Dipsacus sp.
cherry plum / Prunus cerasifera
stream orchid / Epipactis gigantea
bracken fern / Pteridium aquilinum
sword fern / Polystichum munitum
incense cedar / Calocedrus decurrens
stinging nettle / Urtica dioica
redwood / Sequioa sempervirens
blue elderberry / Sambucus nigra ssp. caerulea
grasses / Poaceae
mugwort / Artemesia douglasiana
monkeyflower / Mimulus auranticus
cleavers / Galium sp.
ocean spray / Holodiscus discolor
Willow / Salix sp.
Coffeeberry / Rhamnus californica
Plantain / Plantago sp.
Poison oak / Toxicodendron diversilobium

Animals:
Honeydew
European honeybee (and native bees)
Sphinx moth caterpillar

Link

7 Insects You’ll Be Eating in the Future

Click the title for a Livescience.com article about a few popular insects eaten around the world, and their important potential as a more ubiquitous food source in the future given the global food (esp. protein) shortage crises.

Some students from McGill University in Canada won the 2013 Hult prize, providing $1,000,000 in seed money for their project making protein-rich flour from insects, starting with grasshoppers (yes, 1 million bucks for bugs).

Link

TED Talks: Why Not Eat Insects?

Click on title to link to a TED video lecture advocating entomophagy (eating insects).

Our ancestors all ate insects, and I’m not talking about just monkeys and apes! Nearly all hunter-gatherers worldwide ate insects as an essential part of their diet. Many cultures worldwide, such as in Southeast Asia, still eat tons of insects, and consider many varieties to be fine delicacies. Insects are super healthy, full of protein and good fats, easily gathered, and are way more energetically efficient than vertebrate foods. Since meat production is one of the biggest causes of global warming and environmental degradation, going back to eating insects would be a great solution.