This post may contain affiliate links. If you make a purchase, I'll earn a small fee at no extra cost to you.*
Yes, you read that right. You might think bugs are gross, but if you are starving and there’s no other option, a handful of bugs will look pretty appetizing.
Our aversion to the idea of eating bugs is partly a cultural bias. In many cultures, insects are a delicacy. Bags of roasted crickets, sugar-ant donuts, and crispy fried moth larvae are just a few of the traditional insect foods you can find in markets around the world.
In North America, eating bugs usually has a “what!?” response. After all, they crawl around and get into things and generally freak people out. But most bugs are harmless, and they’re densely packed with fat, protein, and even some vitamins and minerals.
Depending on the type of bug, you may need to do some pre-prep. Some insects need to be purged by feeding them a particular diet or starving them in order to expel harmful materials. All insects should be cooked before consumption in order to makes sure they are dead, and cooking makes them taste better, anyway.
Possibly one of the first insects you might think of eating. Crickets are easy to catch, and are part of traditional diets in many cultures.
Traps are the easiest way to catch crickets. Put some sugar in a jar, then sink it into the ground in an area with crickets or lay the jar on its side. Leave the trap set overnight. In the morning, if the bait is successful, there should be crickets waiting to become your breakfast. Here are 5 ways to catch crickets.
You can keep crickets over time by putting a breathable lid on the jar. Alternatively, you can use a non-permeable lid to suffocate them.
Crickets are traditionally dry roasted and eaten plain with maybe a sprinkle of salt. But if you are hesitant about biting into a cricket, you could dry roast them, powder them, and add them to soup or stew for the extra protein and fat they contain.
With hopping insects, you will need to remove the spiky part of the back leg and sometimes the wings before consuming. Otherwise, they can cause irritation.
If you ever drive through a field late in the summer with grasshoppers coming left and right through the windows, you’ll understand why they’re a convenient source of emergency food. Grasshoppers can be hand-harvested in the early morning when they are cold and easy to catch, or you can use a net. Here’s an illustrated guide.
Grasshoppers can also be caught by setting a trap with lights at night. The light will attract the grasshoppers to your backdrop, preferably a slippery surface set into a straight-sided container. Galvanized metal sheeting set in a clean trash can would work. When they try to get to the light, they will slide into the trash can.
As far as eating them, grasshoppers can be prepared in the same way as crickets.
Ever wondered what might happen if your area got hit by a locust swarm? One option is to eat them before they eat everything else. Since they are active during the day, you can catch them with the same methods used to catch grasshoppers. But keep in mind that if you try using a net and the locusts are hungry, they could end up eating it.
Locusts are in the grasshopper and cricket family, so most of the same cooking techniques apply to them as well.
4. Moth larvae
Who would want to eat caterpillars? Well, Laotians for one. They eat silk worm caterpillars as a normal part of their diet. Most moth larvae are edible. However, be sure to avoid any caterpillar or larvae that is colored orange, red, black, or yellow. Those colors usually indicate that the larvae fed on a poisonous plant, and they could make you sick.
Again, roasting is the preferred method of preparing moth larvae. In Laos you can purchase fried silk worm larvae from street vendors. They actually taste pretty good once you get over the gross-out factor. As with almost everything, insects are better when you incorporate spices and other foods.
5. Ants and Termites
Depending on the area, ants and termites can be quite prolific. Ants should always be killed as quickly as possible as they secrete acid when stressed, which changes their flavor. The flavor of the ant also depends on the type of ant. For example, a fire ant will be more spicy than a plain black ant.
One simple way to harvest ants is to poke a stick into an ant nest, pull it out, and knock the ants off into a sheer-sided container. Roasting and frying work well with ants. Add a little salt and you can have an imitation salt-and-vinegar “ant chip.”
Ant larvae are also edible and have none of the acid secretions that the adults do. Depending on the type of ant, you can often find easily harvestable clusters of larvae inside the ant nest, either at the top or close to the center of the colony. Here’s how to catch ants.
Termites often act like ants, but they’re harder to find. Flying termites are attracted to light and could be collected in an infested house simply by lighting a candle in a dark room and being prepared to catch them. As with ants, roasting is always good.
6. Slugs and Snails
Emergency escargot anyone? Hard to believe that one nation’s luxury item might be another’s survival food. As it is, slugs and snails are not exactly appetizing on their own. However, one cannot deny that they are very annoying garden pests.
Slugs and snails can be hand-harvested in the early morning from under logs, rocks, and heavy vegetation. They prefer damp environments, so the leafy cabbages in the garden might be a good place to look. Grab the cabbage butterfly larvae while you’re at it.
Due to their diet–decaying vegetation and fungi that may not be edible to humans–slugs and snails should be purged before cooking. This can be done by a week long diet of clean veggie leaves, or by a diet of cornmeal which fattens them up.
Slugs and snails can be roasted, boiled, or deep fried with green tomatoes.
I saved the worst for last. Yes, maggots are disgusting, but they are edible. Maggots–the larvae of the common fly–inhabit rotting meat and other unsavory locations.
So why not just eat the meat before it has a chance to rot? Well, if you’re in a situation where all you have is lean meat (such as from rabbits), you can get a type of protein poisoning because there isn’t enough fat or carbs in your diet. However, maggots can transform lean meat into fat, helping you balance out your diet.
Maggots can be fried or roasted. However, they’re definitely an acquired taste. Here’s a video on how to eat maggots.
There is one other survival reason for using maggots. Maggots eat rotting flesh. In a situation with a severe open injury, maggots can actually prevent and remove decay from living tissue without causing further damage. While it may be an unpleasant prospect, using maggots to clean a severe wound could prevent gangrene or worse.