Monday, May 20, 2013

Do Edible Ants Hold The Answer?

Tourists buy hormigas culonas
near Plaza Bolivar today.
Planet Earth is facing a looming food crisis, not only because the number of humans is increasing, but even more because more and more of those humans want to eat meat, which requires lots of land and resources.

Fortunately, the Food and Agriculture has a solution: Eat Insects!

Even better, Colombians are already eating ants, called hormigas culonas, which are in season right now.

Mouth watering? Hormigas culonas come roasted and salted.

Insect eating isn't as crazy at it sounds. Cultures all over the world eat all sorts of insects, with no apparent harm. The hormigas culonas (lliterally, big butt ants), a traditional food of indigenous people near the Venezuelan border, come streaming out of their nests this time of year and are caught in nets strung in trees. There's apparently little harm done to the ant colonies. The insects streaming out are females vying to establish new colonies. As long as just a few succeed, the species reproduces itself.

Edible ants for sale.
Of course, today ants are only a novelty food in Colombia. But there are good reasons why ants, grasshoppers and even insect pupae could be an important part of the human diet. They grow quickly, occupy little space and provide lots of protein, nutrients and other stuff.

More importantly, insects are much more productive than vertebrates in turning feed into meat. For each ten kilograms of feed a cow eats it produces only one kilogram of cow. Because an insect is cold blooded, it requires much less energy to maintain itself. As a result, an insect produces about eight times more 'meat' per amount of feed than a cow does. (Poultry are more efficient than cows and pigs, but less than insects.) Best of all, you can eat a whole insect, including usually its exoskeleton - but just try biting thru a cow's backbone.

The big-butt ants are supposed to be aphrodisiac.
Insect farming also has the benefit of reducing concerns about animal suffering, since insects are presumably less intelligent and sensitive than than mammals. And insects could easily be farmed at home, in small areas, reducing deforestation impacts.

Does the idea of eating insects seem gross? That's strange, since crustacean delicacies like shrimp, crab and
lobster are taxonomically speaking just marine insects.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours


mauricio forero l said...

Mike, have you tried the hormigas culonas??? They are delicious!!! Did you eat chapulines in Texas??? I love thous. There was a place in Austin that had chapulines in different oils and condiments.

Love the post.

Miguel said...

Hi Mauricio,

Yes, I've tried the hormigas many times, and they're okay. I don't know what chapulines are, tho.


Roberto P said...

These are big around Bucaramanga. Where did you buy these in Bogota?

I love a good culona anywhere!

Miguel said...

There are some ladies who sell them most days on Calle 11, just up from the Casa del Florero, off of Plaza Bolivar.


Carlito said...

As far as I know those hormigas are the queens, leaving the nest to form their own colonies (they have wings unlike the other ants), so in some sense we're endangering the species (queens are the only ones that can reproduce).
If well prepared they are delicious; there's even a restaurant in Barichara that has gourmet dishes with ants (
Regarding the suffering, even plants feel pain so that's an invalid concenrn.

Miguel said...

Hi Carlito,

I understand that these ants are the males, who go out to mate and then die. But only a tiny fraction will successfully mate, the rest lost, so they are analogous to sperm.

Insects certainly feel pain (altho I doubt plants do), but it seems to me that insects' consciousness is less complex than mammals' - for example, they might not feel dread or fear of the future, etc., so one could argue that an insect doesn't suffer the way a mammal does.

In my own case, I've really felt regret over killing a rat in the house, but never felt any remorse over crushing a flea.

But perhaps I should.


Carlito said...

Hi Mike, I'm pretty sure they're the queens:

Miguel said...

HI Carlito,

Seems like you're correct, according to this, too: . Thanks.

However, I'd still like to get an ant expert's confirmation. After all, in bees, for example, each female flies out inside a swarm to found a new colony. It just surprises me that there'd be so many reproductive females. I guess it means that only a tiny fraction of the reproductive females actually succesfully found new colonies, or else the hormiga culonas would have taken us over by now.