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What Bugs Aren’t Safe To Eat?

Should we all be eating insects? For a lot of us, this question needs no thought. Of course, we shouldn’t eat bugs! You may think that a lot of people agree that eating bugs is gross. Well, that’s not the case, as 80% of the world’s population have included insects as a staple in their diets.

Bugs are especially popular in Africa, Asia, and South America. With this said, there are a few bugs that all of us should avoid eating.

Bugs that you should avoid are the cow killer, the red imported fire ant, blister beetles, the Japanese oriental wasp, black widows, monarch caterpillars/butterflies, and raw snails, and many more. Although most of these are venomous there are also other factors to ascertain which bugs are safe or not to eat.

Since we automatically associate bugs with dirt and filth, it might not be easy even to imagine eating them. After all, if we can’t stand seeing them crawling around near our food, it may be nausea-inducing to imagine them being the food!

But we’re not here to debate about whether you want to eat bugs. We’re here to tell you what bugs should stay on the ground rather than being served up on your dinner plate.

The Cow Killer

Color: Predominantly black, with areas of very bright red, orange, yellow or white

Number of legs: 6

Size: 1/8”- 7/8”

Location: Continetal USA

With a name like “the Cow Killer,” you might already be able to guess why these feisty insects aren’t supposed to come close to your feet, let alone your mouth! 

While the female Eastern Velvet Ant (Cow Killer) may look harmless due to its lack of wings, these insects are actually a wasp species! Female Cow Killers do not have wings, but sport a stinger can deliver a powerful sting.

Males of this species look more like what you would imagine a wasp to look like, as they have wings. Male velvet ants are often found on flowers, although some species are nocturnal.

The sting of a female Eastern Velvet Ant has been rumored to kill cattle, hence the nickname “Cow Killer” and while it is not quite powerful enough to kill a human, their sting might make you feel like you’re dying. It would be best if you did not handle these insects at all. 

These wasps are typically most active at dusk or during the dead of night. They can be found in large open areas like meadows, fields, lawns, and sandy areas. Be on the lookout for females who cannot fly and typically walk around on the ground.

Females are typically seen running somewhat erratically on the ground, especially on bare or sandy areas in the warm summer months. These pests will occasionally enter structures for insect prey. 

With all of this information, it’s apparent why you should not consume these stinging insects. If you ever see one, I would put your pride aside and run away. The pain associated with their pointy rears is no joke!

The Red Imported Fire Ant

Color: Red and yellow, with a black or brown gaster

Number of legs: 6

Size: between 0.094” and 0.236”

Location: South America up to the Southern States. Reports in India and Philippines TBC.

Red imported fire ants are another type of insect you definitely want to avoid eating. It goes without saying that their name was not given to them without reason. These ants have a potent sting that causes a variety of painful and potentially fatal symptoms. 

These aggressive ants are incredibly difficult to identify, as they are polymorphic, meaning they appear in many different shapes and sizes. Female ants of this species are generally red or yellow, with a brown or black gaster. Males, however, are completely black.

These ants use their venom to catch prey or for self-defense. Their venom contains toxic proteins that can be potent, especially in sensitive individuals. More than 14 million US citizens are stung by these ants annually. Many of these individuals develop allergic reactions to the venom of a red imported fire ant.

If you are stung by a red imported fire ant, you may experience many worrisome symptoms such as:

  • intense burning and swelling surrounding the site of the sting
  • reddening of the skin 
  • hives
  • the formation of white fluid-filled sterile pustules 

These symptoms usually do not require medical attention and will only remain for a few days at most. However, up to 6% of people may suffer from a severe, life-threatening reaction known as anaphylaxis. 

The symptoms of anaphylaxis include:

  • dizzy spells
  • chest pain
  • nausea 
  • profuse sweating
  • low blood pressure 
  • slurred speech
  • feeling short of breath

With anaphylactic shock being life-threatening, it is no surprise that over 80 deaths have been recorded as a result of a red imported fire ant’s sting.

You can find these ants in rain forests, deserts, alongside roads and buildings, and grasslands. Colonies of these ants will form large soil mounds with no visible entrances, as they use a tunnel system to enter and exit. 

I can’t say I have ever craved ants, but for those of you who do, steer clear of the red imported fire ants. Your mouth and belly will thank you for it, and losing your life because you wanted to chomp down on an ant is simply not worth it.

Blister Beetles

Color: Ranges from an ash gray to bright yellow with black stripes

Number of legs: 6

Size: 0.39” to 0.90”

Location: worldwide

Blister beetles don’t have stingers, nor are their jaws capable of breaking human skin! So they must be harmless, right? Well, not really.

Any contact with one of these beetles will result in blister beetle dermatitis. This type of dermatitis appears within 24 – 48 hours after coming into contact with a blister beetle.

Blister beetle dermatitis will cause welts and blisters to appear on your skin as a reaction to the chemical that these beetles release. Blister beetles release this chemical, known as cantharidin, as a way of protecting themselves from predators. 

The blisters that are caused by exposure to cantharidin form on any part of the area that comes into contact with the substance. You may develop further blisters or welts if you crush a blister beetle on your skin. Pain, burning, and swelling often accompany these skin irregularities. 

Blisters are temporary, with most symptoms improving within seven days. There’s a low risk of scarring with this type of bug-related skin condition.

You’ll find blister beetles near alfalfa and weeds during bloom. They feed on nectar and pollen. These beetles tend to congregate in swarms and are most commonly found in southern Africa, especially Zimbabwe.

Even though these bugs aren’t lethal when consumed, I hope we can all agree that any sort of blister or welt is uncomfortable. Now imagine that in your mouth. No thank you!

There are over 7500 species of this beetle, all over the world.

Japanese Oriental Wasp

Color: Dark brown, with a yellow hue

Number of legs: 6

Size: 2” – 3” long

Location: Japan

Japanese oriental wasps are twice the size of any normal wasp. That, on its own, is terrifying enough to keep them off most people’s dinner plates. But, if that somehow wasn’t enough to deter you from consuming them, let’s look at what else makes them a highly unfavorable treat.

Wasps are extremely aggressive animals. Japanese oriental wasps, however, are one of the most aggressive insects on the planet. Near to one hundred wasps can sting you at a time, with each one delivering multiple devastatingly painful stings. 

Those who have been stung by this wasp say that the pain is one of the most excruciating experiences they have ever had. The amount of venom delivered by these wasps exceeds that of any other venomous animal. 

The fatality rate resulting from the stings of these wasps is relatively high, averaging fifty deaths per year.

This wasp lives in remote locations, specifically on isolated islands in Japan.

Keeping all of this in mind, I definitely don’t find these angry insects appetizing. I think it’s safe to say that any sane person would be saying the same thing. If you somehow thought these bugs would look good as an entrée, you would be in for a sore surprise.

The Monarch Butterfly

Color: Bright orange and black

Number of legs: 6

Size: Wingspan is 3-4”

Location: Continental USA, and Pretty much worldwide.

The monarch butterfly is an incredibly common butterfly to see fluttering around your garden. However, tummy troubles await those who dare to munch down on these beautifully deceiving insects.

A monarch butterfly’s black and orange wings are to be seen as a warning sign. Heed this warning, as these butterflies do not take kindly to predators. These beautiful insects feed on milkweed, which is highly toxic and can disrupt cardiac contractions. 

Monarch butterflies are most commonly found across North America, wherever suitable living and breeding conditions exist. They are separated into two populations divided by the Rocky Mountains, called the eastern and the western populations.

While adding these butterflies to your diet won’t kill you, it will cause you serious stomach upset, which can lead to other complications such as dehydration. I think it’s safe to say that we should all avoid eating these insects and rather stick to our regular diets.

Maggots

Color: White or cream-colored

Size: ¾ “

Location: Global

Let’s be honest; flies are pesky creatures. No one wants flies buzzing around and ruining their perfect mealtime. Well, their larva, maggots, are not any better. 

Eating one of these squirmy larvae does not make for a tasty meal. Further than that, maggots consume things like rotting food, fecal matter, and even human flesh. This is enough to deter even the bravest foodies from trying to eat them.

What happens if a human ingests maggots?

When consumed by humans, maggots can cause intestinal myiasis, which is when larvae inhabit the gastrointestinal tract and nest in vital organs. This parasitic infection can cause sepsis and even death when left untreated.

These larvae can also cause bacterial infections or allergic reactions. Certain types of larvae are known to cause respiratory and asthmatic symptoms, as well as contact dermatitis.

Some researchers believe that people may have an allergic reaction to larvae that have consumed or been exposed to foods they are allergic to. 

In some cultures, maggots are cooked and then consumed, but experts warn people to stay away from these crunchy cultural meals. They can cause many health issues and are simply unhygienic creatures.

Leeches

Color: Black
Size: 0.3 – 3” long

Location: Global more commonly in warm climates

Leeches are another type of animal that should definitely not be paired with a good glass of wine and light conversation. Some survival guides recommend grinding these slimy slug-like creatures into a paste, but medical professionals have deemed this unsafe.

These bloodsuckers can cause devastating health issues, and experts warn people against eating these nasty bugs.

Swallowing leeches whole can cause them to latch onto the inside of your airway system, and this can cause suffocation and can even prove to be fatal. 

On top of this, trying to source leeches to serve up may prove to be dangerous on its own, as leech bites can become serious when medical treatment is not sought out immediately. One leech bite shouldn’t do you harm, but multiple leeches biting you ate once can cause severe blood loss and, in rare cases, death.

Bugs That are Toxic When Consumed Without Proper Preparation

  • Snails or slugs – these slimy creatures may feed on poisonous mushrooms. You can fry or boil these bugs, though maybe we should leave it to the professional chefs.
  • Earthworms – worms may carry parasites. These bugs should have their stomach content emptied before being boiled and consumed.

How do I determine if an insect is Toxic?

While there isn’t one specific way to tell if a bug is poisonous or not, it is best to stay away from the bugs that are brightly colored, especially smelly or hairy. It would also be smart to steer clear of insects that bite or sting. It’s best to avoid insects that carry diseases, like flies, ticks, and mosquitoes.

Even edible bugs should be eaten with caution, as most need to be cooked or sourced properly before being consumed. When they are raw, some bugs carry parasites or diseases that can prove to be lethal or, at the very least, incredibly detrimental to a person’s health.

What risks are involved with eating insects?

With the use of herbicides and pesticides being so common, a few risks come with eating insects. Animals, humans, and insects are all negatively affected by pesticides and herbicides. When eating insects, you are at a somewhat higher risk of poisoning from lead and arsenic. 

Conclusion

While eating insects is common practice in many cultures worldwide, some bugs are better when they are left to wriggle, crawl or fly around outside. Not all the insects mentioned in this article will cause death or serious harm, but they should still not be consumed, even if you’re desperate.

I know that I certainly won’t be complaining about my meals anytime soon, knowing that I could very well be forced to eat these insects instead. If you happen to consume any of these bugs, seek medical treatment immediately. It is much better to be safe than sorry. 

References

Frank Pearmain

As a homesteader, survivalist, and previously a safari guide in Africa, I have extensive bush and wilderness experience. I am passionate about living a self-sufficient, off-grid lifestyle and continuously learn and strive toward that goal!

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