VICTOR BENNO MEYER-ROCHOW, KENICHI NONAKA & SOMKHIT BOULIDAM
Summary: The general public does not hold insects in high regard and sees them mainly as a nuisance and transmitters of disease. Yet, the services insects render to us humans as pollinators, entomophages, producers of honey, wax, silk, shellac, dyes, etc. have been estimated to be worth 20 billion dollars annually to the USA alone. The role holy scarabs played to ancient Egyptians is legendary, but other religions, too, appreciated insects: the Bible mentions honey 55 times. Insects as ornaments and decoration have been common throughout the ages and nowadays adorn stamps, postcards, T-shirts, and even the human skin as tattoos. In many parts of the world, insects serve as objects of entertainment and represent a considerable value: large, single, live stag beetles are known to have sold for approximately 3,000 US dollars in Japan. In New Zealand and Malaysia luminescent insect displays have become lucrative tourist attractions. In forensic investigations insects have gained more and more in importance as incidences of homicide and smuggle of
contraband rise. Insects as parts of comic strips, horror movies, video games, etc. have also become very popular. Insects appear in sarcastic and science fiction novels, but are also frequently the subjects of romantic or humorous poems. Folk music of virtually all countries of the world knows certain insect songs and in probably all languages of the world idioms exist that make reference to insects. Very often such idioms, just like the many insect-based folk medicines of the different ethnic groups of the world, disappear, before they have even been scientifically analyzed. There is some hope, however, with regard to insects as human food. Insects contain easily digestible fats, valuable protein, fibre, minerals, and vitamins. Under threat through “westernization” in many parts of the world, entomophagy has seen some resurgence in certain areas. In southern Africa mopame worms are now being canned and exported to many countries and in Laos a veritable crickets-as-food industry has evolved over the last 18 years. Children and women collect wild (not farmed) crickets, sell them to middlemen (which are mostly ladies), who take the insects to the
towns and sell them there for a profit to customers like snack bar and restaurant owners. Crickets are, of course, not the only edible insects (there are hundreds of species belonging to virtually all insect orders), but in Laos they are considerably more valuable than rice and even meat. We conclude that any investigation dealing with humankind in nature, be it from the viewpoint of sociology, ecology, economy, or philosophy, will remain incomplete unless the substantial role of the insects is included in such investigations.