After a very difficult day where I’ve been up working way too late I find myself having to deal with a surprise sugar ant migration in my daughter’s bedroom by her bed. Apparently something clear, sticky and sweet had fallen between my daughter’s bed and the wall and lay forgotten to all but the most diminutive of explorers. Bringing in soapy water and vinegar to destroy pheromone trails I moved the bed out into the hall and wiped down the entire area. This was not the sort of conclusion to my day for which I had been hoping; I really don’t have any warm fuzzy feelings for ants. I remember being quite young when I first saw Disney’s The Jungle Book, and being oh so very relieved when Mowgli was unsuccessful in eating his first ant.
I was a big public T.V. (National Geographic’s nature documentaries) watcher. Growing up, Saturday morning cartoons always competed with African Safari adventures; however, when the documentaries on ants came up I realized very young that if I valued not jumping at every sudden itch and feeling like scrubbing my skin multiple hours long explorations of ant colonies was not meant to be in my future. This was added to by the fact that at one point around the age of six I came into the room while my parents were watching the Naked Jungle at the most optimally wrong moment (the mention of the Movie “Naked Jungle” and parents in the living room may bring to mind many possible uncomfortable moments but the movie is about hoards of army ants attacking Charlton Heston; “sadly the ants don’t wield guns”). Needless to say swarming ants were never one of my fascinations.
“Why” you should be asking “do you keep coming back to fun facts about insects?” This is a great question and one I found myself asking repeatedly as I was once again neck deep in insects, specifically, ants. I realized that it all boiled down to incomplete cycles, and insects’ ability to again and again offer the opportunity to close the loop.
Inherent in any developed society is the need and obtainment of a reliable, significant source of protein. More sources than I could possibly ever quote have established this. Knowing this, it can’t help but strike me as peculiar that in many cases we would choose a source and a method of obtaining protein that is not only inferior to another, less reliably available, but also so incredibly resource intensive. For instance, cows take “6 pounds of corn for one pound of beef”1 yet as mentioned in one of my previous blogs soldier fly larva are fed wastes i.e. slaughterhouse leftovers (degraded organic matter).
In place of consuming waste, imagine a source of protein that could aid in several types of crop production and save 408 million dollars a year in maintenance cost. The reality of these imaginings leads you to a species of my “Oh so favorite insect.” Weaver ants. Over the last thousand years in China the cultivation of weaver ants has led to an effective method of pest control and seasonal boom of an additional protein rich crop. The methods have been adopted by Thailand, some parts of Africa, and Australia.
Why? To illustrate let’s play a game; in this game you are a farmer, in front of you are two possible boards in which to play. For your pieces on these boards you may choose among the various citrus fruits, rice, or cashews. The rules should be fairly self explanatory.
Boards and pieces are displayed below feel free to print and cut out the boards and pieces so that you can get the full experience “you will have to provide the coin I’m not including that.”:
Use a coin on every flip move forward 1 space
After playing the games a few times it would seem that the game boards tend to be fairly one sided. Since these boards are roughly modeled on the real world cycles I can’t claim too much credit for that. If you notice however one cycle propagates and continues and the the other simply breaks, one has been trial tested for thousands of years the other is a product of the 20th century. Taking that into account which is the superior system? If Charlton Heston had known could he have saved his farm by utilizing the invading force? “Probably not because he was battling super army ants not weavers.” The point remains, why not try the alternatives? If you’re not sure how to prepare your ants here is a favored Taiwanese recipe:
Stir Fried Weaver Ants Eggs Recipe2
2 Tablespoon of vegetable oil
1 clove of garlic
1 stick of lemongrass, finely chopped
5-10 small Thai chilies
1 large mild red chili chopped into medium size pieces
3 chopped green onions
3 Thai eggplants
3 small red onions, (shallots)
2 handfuls of ant eggs (Kai Mod Daeng) Click here to order
Approx 1 to 2 teaspoon of fish sauce
1 kaffir lime leaf rolled and sliced thinly into slivers
Over the hot embers of a charcoal BBQ fire, place the egg plant, garlic, and chili to roast. You can use a standard home oven if you wish but BBQ’s taste better.
When they are cooked remove them from the BBQ or oven and allow them to cool.
Remove any black burnt pieces from the vegetables, then pound them to a pulp with a mortar and pestle, this paste is called ‘kheuang’ in Thailand.
Prepare the red onions by chopping them into regular pieces.
Place half of the cut onions, three crushed and diced garlic cloves, chopped lemon grass and 2 tablespoons of oil into a skillet or wok. Stir fry until the garlic starts to turn brown.
Add the fish sauce, ant eggs, three quarters of the green onions and the roasted pulp (kheuang) and stir-fry for 1 to 2 minutes. Add the kaffir lime leaf pieces and give the dish a final stir over high heat, then transfer to a serving bowl.
Add the remaining red and green onion and mix it together or simply throw them on the top of the dish as a fresh garnish.
Serve immediately with glutinous (sticky) rice. It is eaten by rolling small balls of sticky rice and dipping them in the stir fried ant’s eggs.
This dish shouldn’t be over-cooked after the ant eggs are added. The texture of the eggs should be comparable to a soft boiled chicken egg.
Still not sure about eating ants? I get that, I’m a vegetarian “And very grateful to be one.” Mostly though I think it’s long past time that we should look at the bigger picture and seriously consider what we are doing before we do it.
1 On average, how many pounds of corn make one pound of beef? … (n.d.). Retrieved April 1, 2015, from http://www.extension.org/pages/35850/on-average-how-many-pounds-of-corn-make-one-pound-of-beef-assuming-an-all-grain-diet-from-background#.VT5eTiFVikp
2 Menu. (n.d.). Retrieved April 1, 2015, from http://www.thailandunique.com/weaver-ants-eggs-recipe
3 PENG, R. (2014). Weaver Ant Role in Cashew Orchards in Vietnam. JOURNAL OF ECONOMIC ENTOMOLOGY,107(4), 1330-1338.
4 CHAO, W. (2014, December 19). Spreading seeds of knowledge – Asia Weekly – China Daily. Retrieved April 3, 2015, from http://epaper.chinadailyasia.com/asia-weekly/article-3776.html
5 Roser, M. (2014, January 1). Fertilizer and Pesticides. Retrieved December 1, 2014, from http://ourworldindata.org/data/food-agriculture/fertilizer-and-pesticides/
6 Materu, C. (2014). Assessment of Oecophylla longinoda (Hymenoptera: Formicidae) in the Control of Mango Seed Weevil (Sternochetus mangiferae) in Mkuranga District Tanzania. Journal of Biology, Agriculture and Healthcare, 4(8), 44-48. Retrieved from file:///C:/Users/gd6000/Downloads/12284-14636-1-PB.pdf
7 Siriamornpun, S. (2008). Insects as a Delicacy and a Nutritious Food in Thailand. In Using Food Science and Technology to Improve Nutrition and Promote National Development,. Mahasarakham: Department of Food Technology Faculty of Technology Mahasarakham University.
8 Mele, V. (2007). A historical review of research on the weaver ant Oecophylla in biological control Agricultural and Forest Entomology.
9 Holland, J. (2014, May 13). U.N. Urges Eating Insects; 8 Popular Bugs to Try. Retrieved April 4, 2015, from http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2013/13/130514-edible-insects-entomophagy-science-food-bugs-beetles/
10 On average, how many pounds of corn make one pound of beef? (n.d.). Retrieved November 1, 2014, from http://www.extension.org/pages/35850/on-average-how-many-pounds-of-corn-make-one-pound-of-beef-assuming-an-all-grain-diet-from-background#.VT5YhiFViko
11 China Spends $2.4 Billion…On Pesticides? (2011, January 11). Retrieved April 6, 2015, from http://blogs.wsj.com/chinarealtime/2011/01/11/china-spends-24-billionon-pesticides/
12 Mele, Paul. (2007). Ants as friends (2nd ed., Vol. 1, pp. 1-68). Modern Lithographic & Cab International.