What Good Are Bugs?
By Chris Williams on November 13, 2014.
We hear this a lot. For an entomologist, it doesn’t take much thought to come up with a bunch of ways in which insects do good for us.
I like to tell customers that an insect is a pest only if you think it is. Sometimes the same insects that are pests in one situation can be beneficial in different circumstances. Through the centuries, man has learned how to cultivate and use insects to his advantage, with food production being a prime example.
Insects That Help to Feed Us
The work of honey bees and other pollinators is probably the best known example of insects helping to provide food for humans. Certain crops (and growers) rely heavily on bee pollination in order to produce fruit, vegetables, or nuts such as almonds. In the process, honey bees also produce honey for our tea and toast. Other insects such as beetles and flies can also pollinate when they visit flowers.
Cheese mites are important in the production of a specific aged cheese, Altenburger. As pests, cheese mites can attack and ruin cheese, giving it an “off” taste. But gourmands say that when cheese mites are purposefully added during Altenburger cheese production, they give it a desired “piquant” taste.
A Sardinian specialty cheese, casu marzu (which translates as “rotten cheese”), also gets its unique taste and texture from the presence of insects. The cheese fly is allowed to lay its eggs on the curing cheese. Feeding by the larvae softens and breaks down the cheese. It is sold with live maggots still inside which is disconcerting for some because the larvae can launch themselves up to 6 inches when disturbed.
Those annoying fruit flies that circle around ripe bananas and drop into our wine glass are actually used by winemakers to make fermentation possible. The yeasty, fermenting grapes attract the fruit flies for egg laying. As the flies move from grape to grape, they spread the necessary yeast spores.
Insects as Food
Maybe most importantly, in many cultures around the world, insects themselves are an important food source. Only in the developed countries are we still squeamish about eating insects. At least two billion people worldwide make insects a regular part of their diet. Insects are high in nutritional value, plentiful, and easy to raise and harvest.
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