One of the many continents in the world that have traditionally eaten insects (and still do) is South America. In the mountains of Peru they enjoy long white stringy tayno kuro worms that grow in arawanku plants, cooked in clay pots with corn. Or the bright orange waykjuiro worms that feed on tayanka trees, fried with chillies. On lower ground they wade through streams to harvest chanchu chanchu, which are larvae of fish flies and eaten alive after removing the head. In the forests, fallen trees provide the perfect home for chiro worms, or longhorn beetle larvae that can grow up to 15cm long. Chiro worms are fried whole and taste like sausage. Palm grubs are also gathered by villagers and eaten raw.

Pictured above: Maguey worms (gusanos de maguey) in a Mexico City restaurant

Venezuela is the place to crunch large tarantulas, including the world’s largest Theraphosa leblondi that can be as big as dinner plates. They are prepared by roasting them whole in a fire. These giant arachnids have muscle-like white meat in their legs and abdomen and taste like crab.

In Mexico, they have an annual festival called Jumil Day in which they harvest and eat jumiles, which are a type of stink bug. These are very much an acquired taste (very strong flavour with distillate and medicinal notes), made more palatable ground in a paste with tomatoes and chillies. More pedestrian and better tasting are grasshoppers (chapulines), which are eaten all over the country, typically pan-roasted with lemon, salt and garlic and often served in tortillas. Mexico is the home of tequila made from the agave cactus that is also home to the famous agave worms, both red and white. But the worms you sometimes find on your tequila or mezcal bottle are not agave worms at all but maguey worms, the larvae of giant skipper moths that also feed on maguey cacti used to make mezcal. These are often served with refried beans, cheese, sour cream and guacamole in corn tortillas. Ant larvae and pupae are also on the menu of some restaurants, called escamole.

While insects are an important food source and eaten by necessity in some traditional rural communities, they can also be highly prized and offered to special guests.

Acknowledgements to Peter Menzel and Faith D’Aluisio and their book Man eating bugs- the art and science of eating insects (Material World Books)

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