I am fascinated by insects, they have become metaphor for survival and intrigue. They are enigmatic, surreptitious, ubiquitous, eternal and adaptable. The Bug Bang Theory aims to create space to consider the insect, with appreciation and respect. Humble down, friends, this is just ten parts of a never-ending story.
The first time I ever intentionally ate an insect was with Justin, a fynbos farmer outside his home in Hopefield, 130km north of Cape Town. It was a hot summer, dry and dusty, heat packing. Typical West Coast summer. The termites were in a deep hustle, very busy going about termite culture, orderly, in tune, in time, almost institutionalised. I wonder if they are wondering about me. I remember a moment when I was 8 years old and my baby sister was deep in thought, lying down with baby fat fingers learning to grasp. She'd pluck at ants and put them in her mouth. It was entrancing, how entranced she was, the inherent knowledge this new person had to see these tiny insects and to instinctively put them in her mouth. It took a moment to shake out of it and call my mother. Ew gross, eating ants must not be a good idea, surely. I realise now that in that shocking moment where she was quickly picked up away from her ants, her face brushed off of grass and ant, her new brain must have computed this as a food truth, ants must not be for eating. I know better now of course, it's taken a few years to unlearn and relearn food truths. The True Meaning of Edible. Many insects are of course edible and are an abundant food source. It depends on their habitat and diet, this that eat poisonous plants may concentrate the phytotoxins which make them inedible and even toxic to some other animals consuming them, like us.
There are specific ways insects are harvested. Pedro’s mother lives in the Cederberg, just outside of Clanwillam, she harvests the termites on the north side of their anthill (termites also known as White Ants). They’re roasted until they’re crisp, with the consistency of crunchy crispy fat and, soft-ish on the inside. Not quite the same as pulling them out of a hole in the dusty ground like Justin and I did that afternoon in Hopefield. Eating live termites, one crunch to kill, then chew.
I'm writing this in flight, I can see what the tops of clouds look like and just how big the sky is. I also imagine the cars down there being obedient ants, conforming to the gray lines that divide the land. Considering ants, they must see us as giants but never seem fearful of us. Often it's the other way around, imagining them crawling all over you and getting into your insides. Fall asleep under a tree in a village in Gutu, Zimbabwe or a dorpie in Namaqualand, South Africa and they will find you and bite you. The tenderly named balbyters are especially veracious, the stuff of nightmares, they don’t mind sacrificing themselves to crawl up your legs and bite you on your eggs. Back to eating them though, ants can be delicious. Raw*, their flavour profiles range from different citrus notes (sweet to sour to tart) to meaty or the strongest violet perfume, overwhelming your mouth and making your breath purple. Cooked, their flavours become nutty, smokey delciousness. Yet these flavour variations can be found within the same nest or within the same species, some even taste of nothing.
As Infinitely Abundant
Insects come in all adaptations, colours, hairiness, shapes and sizes. They are ubiquitous and hold the broadest known biodiversity within all organisms of the planet.
They are the mortar to our ecosystem bricks, there are so many more species than what we have studied or have come to know. It reminds me of the way we see the universe, while there is so much to know and discover, the vast unknown continues to unravel, never to be caught up. Their rate of adaptation to change, whether internally or environmentally, is very rapid which is due to their size and their short life stages. They adapt even to the intensive agricultural chemicals that aim to annihilate them in the first place.
Time in insect is much faster than human time, so much more is happening in a short amount of time. As Pia Adderson, Senior Lecturer on Insect Diversity at the University of Stellenbosch says, “that is why insects can become resistant to insecticides so quickly. The housefly developed resistance to the insecticide DDT in 1947 eight years after it was developed for the first time. Today, insecticide resistance is developing much faster due to the large variety of chemistry that insects are exposed to providing increasing selection pressures.”** Insects epitomise the concept of change; their bodies change within their lifetimes and within co-evolution of their species, they go through instars and metamorphosis while you are wondering which car to buy or sitting and having your hair cut. There are even some species whose body function shange completely, spending all of their youth eating and then having no mouth function at adult stage. Insects are certainly the most exemplary examples of superheroes, if Nature were ever to start a comic book series.
Ant-Man is legit; Let’s face it, insect superpowers would get you super far if it’s about dealing with survival. In terms of fighting crime though, it has its place, say if there were Ant-Men as opposed to just Ant-Man. Best thing about the movie was its appropriate portrayal of insects. Ant-Man harnesses the superpower of Thiriokinesis, calling ants to his aid and able to manipulate them for the cause, to gather in their numbers or do a deed. He’s got other superpowers too but that’s probably the best one he has, and he can do that without being Ant-Man. Within the realms of Hollywood media, insects are generally portrayed as cutesy, animated in children’s movies or represented as terrifying in Horror movies, the killer insects perpetuating the fears that already persist.