Insects can use more friends on the Web. Emmet Brady is one such guy. A little bit hipster, a lot bug geek, Emmet is a dedicated promoter of cultural entomology. Cultural entomology studies the intersections between humans and insects, many of which are likely to have important implications as the climate changes, food production is threatened by the loss of pollinators, and more people on the planet require more protein. So, kudos to you, Emmet. We’ll have our eyes on your work!
Looking at insects through a dissecting scope is one of my favorite activities. I love seeing the gorgeous textures and colors up close–it’s like entering a secret sci-fi wonderland, where you can get intimate with the alien without it eating your head. I especially like this “fantasy” world because it’s real–and because human lives are entwined with these marvelous tiny beings, even if we aren’t generally aware of it.
Not everyone has the equipment or inclination to gaze at insects through a scope, however. For them, artists can provide an accessible aesthetic for enjoying insect beauty. Mielle Harvey is my latest find. (Actually, she found me on this blog–thanks Mielle!) Her HEXAPODA collection is both artistically sophisticated and scientifically accurate enough to suit both art aficionados and entomology buffs. Check it out!
Recent research suggests that sleep may not be an absolute necessity–if starvation looms. An August 31 study published online in PLoS Biology shows that fruit flies remain active and alert when in a foodless environment. The research team speculates that the lack of consequences from sleep deprivation may be tied to lipid metabolism.
But don’t stop eating to burn the midnight oil–another recent study links late nights to Alzheimer’s.
Read more here: Hungry flies ok with less sleep.
The aphids don’t want to be lunch–so how do they avoid becoming a mouthful when an herbivorous animal tries to eat the plant they live on? A new study published in Current Biology finds a simple solution–the heat and the humidity of the goat’s breath triggers the insects to drop off the plant.
Spanish researchers have found evidence that the combination of behavior and gravity may determine the itty-bitty body size of some orb weaver males. The males use “bridging”, or crawling along a single strand of silk to another location, to get around, a behavior that appears to favor smaller size. Females, however, are larger because this gives them a reproductive advantage: producing more eggs. This has led to what is called extreme sexual dimorphism, or large differences in size between males and females.
Are you ready for a summer of no-see-ums and bloodsuckers? If you feel a little unprepared, here’s something to inspire you, courtesy of WebMd.com: health education, dermatology, and nice macro photography, all rolled into an informative slideshow.
After you’re through, you may want to read this:
For you lovers of natural products, one repellent uses lemon eucalyptus oil. For the rest of you, remember: never use a repellent with more than 30% DEET.
Here’s to a happy and healthy summer!
Are humans herbivores? Heck no, is the short answer. Even most herbivores aren’t exclusively herbivores; for example, deer are known to eat the nestlings of ground-nesting birds, if they are deficient in certain minerals that they need to grow antlers. Most primates eat insects as a supplement to plants, along with occasional meat. Human digestive systems and teeth are obviously designed for an omnivorous diet.
What started this line of thinking is that I just spent a little too much time responding to some ill-considered comments on a vegetarian message board. I was surfing for good recipes to feed my cheese-itarian fiancé. When I ran into ridiculous assertions that humans can’t digest meat (seriously?) and have herbivore teeth (not true), I felt compelled to respond.
There are excellent arguments for a vegetarian lifestyle, but “humans are biologically herbivores” is simply not one of them. Basic palentology shows that we have what are called “bunodont teeth”, which means we are omnivores. Herbivore mammals have much taller “hyposdont” teeth that can last longer when worn down by a plant-dominant diet. Primitive stone tools tell us that 2.5 million years ago early hominids were using stone implements to cut the flesh off the bones of large animals that they had either hunted or whose carcasses they had scavenged. Our digestive systems are clearly designed to digest animal proteins, beginning with pepsin in the stomach. The bottom line is that, historically and biologically speaking, we are omnivores.
But what many of us in developed countries have “forgotten” is that an omnivorous diet can include insects. And it just might be a good idea for the environment.
Entomophagy–eating insects, arachnids, and myriapods–has been a successful dietary strategy for humans for tens of thousands of years (at least). Insect foods remain a popular in Central and South America, Africa, and Asia. There are an estimated 1,462 species of edible arthropods including crickets, cicadas, grasshoppers, ants, beetle grubs, caterpillars, scorpions and tarantulas. Depending on the culture and customs, insects may be skewered, fried, smoked, baked, or eaten raw. In Australia, aboriginal peoples consider honeypot ants, whose grape-sized abdomens are filled with with sweet liquid, a delicacy.
OK, now you’ve really grossed me out!
Why bring up this topic that is likely to turn your stomach? If you’ll permit me a moment on my soapbox, I think a thoughtful semi-vegetarian and low-dairy diet is a moral imperative for everyone on the planet. We need to reverse the trend of large, specialized farms for meat or dairy, because they have a significant environmental impact. A study on the environmental impacts of dairy in the UK found that intensive dairy farms overwhelm the local ecosystems to damage habitat, reduce biodiversity, damage soil, increase use of fertilizers, medications and hormones, and pollute groundwater (skip to page 151 to read the conclusions for yourself). So ovo-lacto vegetarians are not off the hook–they are contributing to the problem.
But you just said we were omnivores. Don’t we all need protein?
Of course we all need protein (or amino acids) and plant sources are unlikely to be enough. Unless we can each return to keeping chickens and a cow on family farms, where we would live with the immediate environmental impacts of our dietary choices, we need to develop a cultural solution. One promising solution–if we can just get over the ick-factor–is minilivestock, or the cultivation of insects for food.
Some of the benefits:
- Insects generally contain more protein and less fat than traditional meats, according to the Entomological Society of America.
- They also have about 20 times higher food conversion efficiency than traditional meats, meaning they have a higher meat-to-feed ratio than beef, pork, lamb or chicken.
- Insects can be a good source of not only protein, but also vitamins, minerals, and fats. For example, crickets are high in calcium, and termites are rich in iron. Giant silkworm moth larvae provide copper, zinc, iron, thiamin, and riboflavin.
- One study noted that food collection of a crop pest grasshopper, Sphenarium purpurascens, may be a viable alternative to pesticide use in Mexico’s Puebla–Tlaxcala Valley. Collection of pest insects for food has a long history.
- Guess what, folks. We eat them anyway. Some estimates suggest that we eat from one to two pounds of insects each year, and without knowing it. We might as well make it a conscious part of caring for the environment.
Some interesting reads:
Feeling brave? You can buy insect foods online.
Filed under: Ants, Bioinspiration / Biomimicry, Biology, Climate change, Coleoptera, Crickets (Gryllidae), Cultural entomology, Entomophagy, Grasshoppers, Lepidoptera, Orthoptera, Trends | 1 Comment »