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Adventure Science Center Blog

Science Educators and guest authors exploring our world and the science and technology that connects us.

 

 

INTERVIEW WITH AN ENTOMOLOGIST by Erin Castellano, Science Educator

It’s Chow Down month at Adventure Science Center, meaning we’re celebrating all things food!

Now, you may be sitting there wondering what an “Interview with an Entomologist” has to do with food. Did you know the United States is one of the minority when it comes to eating insects? In fact, 80% of the world’s population eats insects as part of their regular diets. According to PBS, the edible-insect movement is on the rise in the U.S., even though no one knows exactly how many insects are being consumed.

I chatted with Arthur Leago, a fellow bug enthusiast friend and local entomologist, about his passion for bugs and his experience with bug eating (a.k.a. entomophagy).

What’s your experience working with insects?


via GIPHY

I've always been, and forever will be, that weird bug kid. I first started working with insects at 10 years old when I started volunteering at a local reptile shop until I was old enough to join their workforce. Initially, I started breeding various insects as a sustainable food source for my many reptiles and invertebrates, but then it clicked… if they serve as such a quality high-protein food source for my animals, why would it be any different for humans?

What’s your favorite insect?

Tough one! A couple of particularly interesting ones are the Lord Howe Island Stick Insect (Dryococelus australis) and the Extinct Roach (Simandoa conserfariam). The story of the Dryococelus is a lengthy one, but, essentially, scientists thought they were extinct until some climbers on Lord Howe Island found frass (insect poop) that eventually led to the discovery of the entire population, living on a single shrub clinging to the side of a rock face. From there, scientists brought some individuals into captivity, and they were eventually bred with extreme success. The Extinct Roach has a similar story, but to a different end… the species was only observed in a single cave in Guinea, which has unfortunately since been mined and now they only exist in captive collections.

What's your favorite insect to eat?

Candied cockroaches are always at hit at our Way Late Play Date Events

Cockroaches, for sure. They are an extremely versatile protein, delicious as either sweet or savory. Candied cockroaches are always a hit. (Pictured here at a Way Late Play Date event.)

What are the benefits of eating insects?

Insect Protein Infographic from Venturopoly
Insect Protein Infographic from Venturopoly

Insect husbandry is straightforward, with little to no waste, and often serves as a primary step in organic waste reduction. My insects will eat any fruit or vegetable byproducts, like apple cores, banana peels etc., I give them. They are very effective composters!

Insects are also very nutritious, being that they’re very high in protein and very low in fat. As a meat alternative, or even just a supplemental protein source, there is no better in my eyes.

Do you think that Americans would ever embrace the concept of eating insects? Which insect do you think would be the easiest to start with?


via GIPHY

We're well on the way! Most everyone in the U.S. has eaten insects, often routinely, and they have no idea. Red velvet cake? It's red because it has ground up beetles in it. M&M's? They're shiny because of an excretion from a female Shellac beetle. And the list goes on!

Aside from manufacturing trickery, insects have gained a small but solid following as a sustainable food source. Cricket products are most prominent, often in the form of a flour or a chip. Most people don't have an issue with eating insects as long as they don't have to see them as insects. There is also a rise in gourmet insect dishes offered periodically at restaurants, which holds a specific novelty to most folks. 

Check out our Women Science Wednesday feature of a Martin Luther King, Jr., Magnet School alumnus who’s finding success in the world of eating bugs»

Should we eat the insects we find in our backyards?

Bug Lollipops, image from Educational Innovations
Bug Lollipops, image from Educational Innovations

Absolutely not! Many insects use toxins as a defense mechanism. Aside from the risk of misidentification as an edible species, even the edible ones have likely been exposed to pesticides and other chemicals… even if you personally don't spray your property. It’s best to play it safe and only seek out eating insects reared for the intent of consumption.

Do you have any advice or tips for any future entomologists?

Keep exploring confidently and document your findings! It is very easy to keep good records with technology these days, and the data may end up being useful for research. I encourage you to get involved however possible and don’t be afraid to contact experts. Universities are a great place to look, if there aren't any experts in your immediate area. Most of them would be more than willing to share some knowledge or experience with an aspiring entomologist!

- Interview by Erin Castellano, Science Educator

Posted by Molly Hornbuckle at 10:00 AM
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