In many parts of the world, eating bugs is commonplace. Insects are actually the most abundant protein source on the planet, and many of them boast dense concentrations of en-vogue nutrients like omega 3's that we buy at fancy grocery stores. If 2 billion people can invite insects to the dinner table, it shouldn't be too much of a stretch for you to include edible bugs in your emergency survival diet.
Bugs NOT to eat
While the majority of bugs are safe to eat, there are a few precautions you should take. Don't eat any insects that are brightly-colored; their coloration is a warning to predators that they're toxic. That even goes for the insects on this list. Avoid hairy bugs; there may be stingers nestled in the fuzz. Also avoid any bugs that have a potent smell (except, paradoxically, stinkbugs).
When in doubt
If you are ever in doubt about an insect's edibility, cut off a tiny, cooked piece of it, swallow it, and wait a few hours. If you don't develop any symptoms, eat a larger piece and wait again. If nothing happens, it's probably fine.
No bug sushi
Whenever possible, you should cook your insects before you eat them. They may carry parasites or harmful bacteria that cooking will kill, and it improves flavor and makes the nutrients more digestible.
Bugs to look for and how to catch them
These crunchy-crawlies are easy to find, nutritious, and have taste that could plausibly be acquired. When you consider the alternative, they may not seem that bad after all.
1. Grasshoppers and Crickets
Grasshoppers and crickets are extraordinarily protein-rich and you can collect them pretty much anywhere.
Grasshoppers are easiest to catch in the early mornings, when they move more slowly. You can also catch crickets by hand, or you can trap them by cutting the top off of a plastic water bottle (an open Nalgene works too), burying it in the ground, and dropping in some over-ripe fruit. If you don't have any fruit, a glowstick works almost as well. Leave it overnight, and in the morning you'll find breakfast hopping around inside. If you drop in a few small pieces of cardboard or leaves, the crickets will hide under them instead of trying to escape.
If you have to catch them by hand, they're fast, so err on the side of overkill and grab the entire area of ground surrounding the cricket. Look for crickets in damp, dark places first: under rocks, logs and other large objects. Also check in tall grasses, shrubs and trees. Try shaking branches above a shirt, sleeping bag or other piece of fabric, and see if any edibles fall onto it.
To prepare crickets and grasshoppers, pull off their heads and the entrails should come with. The entrails are edible, but removing them reduces the risk of parasite transmission. For this reason, always cook them before eating them. Remove the wings and legs and then dry roast them if you have a pan, or skewer them and roast over flame if you don't.
Photo by Maciej Forc / Flickr
Ants are everywhere, easy to catch, and actually taste good. They're also easy to find.
Just scan the ground and you're sure to eventually find one. They march in straight lines, so more are sure to follow. One good way to collect them is to hit an anthill with a stick a couple times, then put the end of the stick in the opening. As ants rush to bite it, dunk them into a container of water, and keep going until you have a few hundred.
Capture as many as you can and boil them for about six minutes. This will neutralize the acid in their bodies. If you have to eat them raw, just make sure they're dead first. They're spicy already, no need to add the pain of being bitten.
Photo by Filipe Fortes / Flickr
Termites are a great source of protein, and since they live most of their lives buried away in wood, they are less likely to carry parasites than other insects.
Break open a punky log and grab them or shake them out fast. As soon as they see light, they'll crawl deeper into the wood.
Roast them in a dry pan.
Photo by Rasbak / Wikimedia Commons
This is probably the one you dreaded reading about. Grubs are very easy to find and collect, and some even taste not-disgusting.
The best place to collect them is in rotting logs. Use a stick or a rock to break the wood apart and sift through to find your morsels. You can also try stripping bark off of living trees, or searching under rocks and leaf litter.
Grubs can be eaten raw, but as with all bugs, it's better to cook them first. Skewer them lengthwise with a long stick and cook over an open flame until the skin is crispy.
5. Wood Lice
Photo by Andy Reago / Flickr
Also called “sow bug”, “potato bug”, or “pill bug,” the wood louse is actually not a bug at all. It's the only terrestrial crustacean in North America, and has a flavor that's similar to shrimp.
They are extremely easy to collect. Overturn rocks and logs, or sift through dead leaves, and you're sure to find some.
Drop them in boiling water and leave them there for a while. They can carry nematodes, so be sure they're thoroughly cooked. When they're done, strain the water out and eat.
Photo by Dodo-Bird / Flickr
Pretty much everyone knows how to find earthworms, though few have probably eaten them. Dig around in damp soil, decomposing vegetable matter or flip over some rocks and you're sure to find them.
While worms can be eaten raw in an emergency, the parasite potential should motivate you to cook them first. Not to mention the extremely unpleasant prospect of eating a live worm.
Photo by USGS BIML / Flickr
Yep, believe it or not, stinkbugs are edible. They are even considered a delicacy in Mexico, where there's an annual festival in Taxco to celebrate them.
In the winter, you will probably find them hiding under rocks, logs, or other cover. Otherwise, you'll see them parading arrogantly across open ground.
Some people eat them raw, but those people are weird. To rid stinkbugs of their stinkitude, soak them in warm water for 5 to 10 minutes, then cook extensively by roasting in a dry pan. They are said to have an “iodine” taste. If they're still moving after you cook them thoroughly, just send them down the hatch anyway. They can live a full week after being boiled. Yum.
Photo by Mike Keeling / Flickr
Scorpions are a common street food in China, and can be found in California, Arizona, New Mexico and other Southwest states. They taste a bit like crab.
To catch them, first find their dens. They'll be low to the ground, burrowed under overhanging rocks or logs. Dig a hole right in front of the burrow, large enough to accommodate an open-mouthed jar, water bottle with the top cut off, or cup. When the scorpion emerges at night, it will fall into the jar and be unable to climb out. Kill it with a stick or a knife while it's still in the jar, and cut off the stinger.
Roast over a fire or coals until it’s well browned.
These bugs are edible, but either harder to find or riskier to collect and eat. But they are still good options in a pinch.
Slugs and Snails
Photo by David Rynde / Flickr
While their flesh is benign, there's a high enough likelihood that they've fed on poisonous plants or mushrooms to make eating them inadvisable. If you don't have a choice, keep them in a container for a day so the toxin load diminishes. You can also feed them plants you know aren't poisonous. Then be sure to cook them thoroughly.
Photo by Bart van Dorn / Flickr
Remove as much hair as you can and don't eat the fangs.
Bees and Wasps
Photo by Andy Murray / Flickr
Cut off the stingers and cook well.
Photo by tinkerbrad / Flickr
Some are toxic, so either do some research about the area you plan to be stranded in or proceed with extreme caution.