Orthoptera Grasshoppers Locusts Katydids Crickets

Family Acrididae (Shorthorned Grasshoppers)

Grasshoppers and locusts are included among the foods of almost every culture having any history of using insects as food. In southern Africa, before there were crops to protect, the arrival of a locust swarm, some of which were dense enough to block out the sun, was hailed with rejoicing as a time of harvest. Villagers collected them in the evenings after the swarms had alighted and were benumbed by the cool of the night. The locusts were roasted or boiled or, when plentiful, dried and crushed in mortars to make a much appreciated flour. Sometimes the flour or porridge was mixed with honey to make a sort of cake. Early reports noted that indigenous populations with access either to these vast locust swarms or to winged termites soon grew "visibly fatter and in better condition than before." Grasshoppers were also an important food of Indian tribes in western North America. Various methods of harvest were used, but, most frequently, the grasshoppers were encircled by a number of people and driven into a pit previously dug or onto a bed of coals. Thus, slightly roasted, they could either be eaten or dried and kept for winter food.

In more modern times, within the past 20 years, grasshopper harvest has at one time or another replaced insecticide spraying in parts of Mexico, Thailand, and the Philippines.

Sphenarium is the grasshopper genus of greatest commercial food importance in Mexico. The rice grasshopper, Oxya velox, was formerly widely eaten in Japan and Korea. Following reduced use of pesticides on rice in both countries, it is again increasing in numbers. Known as inago in Japan it is now found in supermarkets as a luxury item; known as metdugi in Korea, it is considered a health food.

Family Gryllidae (Crickets)

Several species of crickets are important as food. In Southeast Asia, Brachytrupes portentosus lives in tunnels that are about 30 cm deep, usually one cricket per hole, and comes out only at night. They feed on young plants and are an agricultural pest. They are collected by digging, by filling the holes with water, or as they fly around lights at night. After the wings are removed they are eviscerated, then fried, grilled, or put into curry as a substitute for meat. They are sold by villagers in the markets. In the market at Chiang Mai in Thailand, the shopkeeper takes the crickets live from a plastic bag and spits them longitudinally from head to abdomen on a bamboo stick, three or four crickets per stick. They are then fried in oil in front of shoppers.

Another species of Brachytrupes, the sand cricket (B. membranaceus), occurs widely in eastern Africa. Like its cousin in Asia, its presence is indicated by a small heap of soil pushed out from its burrow. It is usually collected by the women and children, and as many as 100 can be collected in a day. It has been said of the sand cricket, "When well prepared it is considered a delicacy, for it turns an ordinary meal into a dinner." In Zimbabwe and likely elsewhere, B. membranaceus is one of the species that has increased in numbers in recent years because it is particularly suited to the new kinds of agroecosystems. It is now a significant pest in sand-soil fields, and it is sold in urban markets.

The cricket most readily available to Western insect gourmets is the cosmopolitan house cricket, A. domesticus (Fig. 1), which is widely reared commercially as food for pets and other small animals. Studies in the United States led to estimates that this cricket, when kept at temperatures of

FIGURE 1 Mass-reared edible house crickets, A. domesticus.

30°C or higher and fed diets equal in quality to those used in bringing conventional livestock to market condition, shows a food conversion efficiency about twice as high as those of broiler chicks and pigs, four times higher than sheep, and nearly six times higher than steers when losses caused by dressing percentage and carcass trim are taken into account. In addition, female crickets have much higher fecundity than beef animals; each cricket lays 1200 to 1500 eggs over a period of 3 to 4 weeks. In beef production, by contrast, four animals exist in the breeding herd for each market animal produced, thus giving crickets a true food conversion efficiency close to 20 times better than that of beef.

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