AskDefine | Define entomophagous

User Contributed Dictionary



  1. feeding on insects; insectivorous

Extensive Definition

Entomophagy is the practice of eating insects as food. Entomophagy is seen in a large number of taxonomic groups including insects (that eat other insects), birds and mammals.
The term is also used to describe human insect-eating that is common in some cultures in parts of the world including Central and South America, Africa, Asia and Australia, but uncommon and even taboo in some societies.

Non-human consumption of insects

Many insects are entomophagous and these are usually classified into predators and parasitoids, while some are cannibalistic. Nematodes that live within insects (parasites) are also termed entomophagous. Some bacteria and fungi are also known to growing on or inside insects and these usually cause the death of their hosts. These too are sometimes termed entomophagous, although the term entomopathogen is more appropriate. (See also Entomopathogenic fungi)

History of human entomophagy

Before humans had tools to hunt or practice agriculture, insects must have represented an important part of their diet. Evidence of this has been found by analyzing coprolites from caves in USA and Mexico. Coprolites in caves in the Ozark Mountains were found to contain ants, beetle larvae, lice, ticks and mites. This is not unexpected, as most apes are, to a greater or lesser extent, insectivorous. Chimpanzees, for example, derive the vast majority of their energy from eating termites and ants.
Cave paintings in Altamira, north Spain, dated to about 9,000 to 30,000 BCE, depict the collection of wild bee nests. At the time people must have eaten bee pupae and larvae with the honey. Cocoons of wild silkworm (Theophilia religiosae) were found in ruins in the Shanxi province of China, dating from 2,000 to 2,500 years B.C. The cocoons had large holes in them, suggesting the pupae were eaten.
In southern Africa, a species of moth called Gonimbrasia belina is found throughout much of the region; its large caterpillar, the mopani or mopane worm, is an important source of food protein.

Entomophagy in popular culture

Barrington Hall, a student co-op at U.C. Berkeley known for its anarchist tendencies, had a yearly insect banquet for many years until the co-op was closed down in 1990 because of the rowdy behavior of its residents. Entomophagy is also featured on some reality TV shows for its shock value. The Explorer's Club holds an annual dinner at New York's Waldorf-Astoria Hotel featuring a wide array of unusual dishes including many featuring insects.


Insects generally have a higher food conversion efficiency than more traditional meats. For example, studies concerning the house cricket (Acheta domesticus), when reared at 30°C or more and fed a diet of equal quality to the diet used to rear conventional livestock, show a food conversion twice as efficient as pigs and broiler chicks, four times that of sheep, and six times higher than steers when losses in carcass trim and dressing percentage are counted. Adverse allergic reactions are also a possible hazard.

Cultural taboo

| Insect larvae (corn ear worms or corn borers) | 2 or more 3 mm or longer larvae, cast skins, larval or cast skin fragments, the aggregate length of insects or insect parts exceeds 12 mm in 24 pounds |- | Canned citrus fruit juices | Insects and insect eggs | 5 or more Drosophila and other fly eggs per 250 ml or 1 or more maggots per 250 ml |- | Canned apricots | Insect filth | Average of 2% or more by count has been damaged or infected by insects |- | Chocolate and chocolate liquor | Insect filth | Average is 60 or more insect fragments per 100 grams (when 6 100 g subsamples are examined) |- | Peanut butter | Insect filth | Average of 30 or more insect fragments per 100 grams |- | Wheat flour | Insect filth | Average of 150 or more insect fragments per 100 grams |- | Frozen broccoli | Insects and mites | Average of 60 or more aphids and/or thrips and/or mites per 100 grams |- | Hops | Insects | Average of more than 2,500 aphids per 10 grams |- | Ground thyme | Insect filth | Average of 925 or more insect fragments per 10 grams |- | Ground nutmeg | Insect filth | Average of 100 or more insect fragments per 10 grams |- | Ground cinnamon | Insect filth | Average of 80 or more insect fragments per 10 gram |} See source for information on other food products.


Further reading

entomophagous in Czech: Entomofagie
entomophagous in German: Entomophagie
entomophagous in Spanish: Entomofagia
entomophagous in French: Entomophagie
entomophagous in Japanese: 昆虫食
entomophagous in Polish: Entomofag
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