Insects are one of the most diverse and widespread groups of animals and Indigenous Peoples of North America consumed a variety of insect species. However, because their bodies are small and dominated by hard-to-digest structures, they are generally not an important food source for indigenous cultures in northern North America. An occasional exception is soft-bodied, larval-stage insects that are encountered in the harvest and storage of meat from other food species.
Cultures from the Central Prairies, Great Basin, and California are reported to have consumed lice , as did the Tutchone, Tagish, Tlingit  and Carrier  who would search for them on each other’s head.
Both the Micmac (Mi’kmaq)  and the Onondaga Iroquois  were reported to consume ants. Although reported to not be fond of them, the Micmac are known to have eaten ants to avoid starvation during difficult times, and on occasion, ants were eaten as a treat because of their acid flavor . The Onondaga Iroquois are reported to have viewed ants as a luxury food, and ate them for their acid flavour . Which of the thousands of ant species consumed by different cultures was not specified, but widespread and common species such as the black carpenter ant were likely regularly encountered.
The Micmac (Mi’kmaq) are reported to have consumed grasshoppers by cooking them with a little fat in an empty clay pot . Cultures from the Central Prairies, Great Basin, and California are reported to consume grasshoppers by roasting, boiling, or drying them. Grasshoppers were gathered with the use of nets, by causing forest or brush fires, or by driving them into a central pit . The species of grasshopper was not specified, but may have included the widespread and common red-legged grasshopper.
The Onondaga Iroquois are reported to have dug up and consumed larvae of the seventeen-year cicada. The larvae were stirred in a hot pot with a small amount of grease added at the end of cooking and were said to be good for one’s health . The Micmac (Mi’kmaq) were reported to consume cicadas to avoid starvation; cicadas were cooked in an empty clay pot, with a little fat added for flavour .
The Chipewyan [6,9] and Inuit [7,12] are reported to have consumed and enjoyed larvae of the caribou warble fly from under the skin of caribou. In the Northwest Territories, the Dogrib harvested botfly and warble fly larvae found in the skin, around the tongue, and in the airways of hunted caribou. They were always eaten alive and raw and were said to be as fine as gooseberries. Immature larvae could be left on the meat and consumed once fully grown in April [9,10]. Sub-arctic cultures in eastern Québec, including the Innu (Montagnais), Naskapi, and Cree might have also consumed those flies’ larvae found in caribou .
Cultures from the Central Prairies, Great Basin, and California are reported to also consume unspecified species of caterpillars, crickets, and flies .
1. Olsen SL: Animals in American Indian Life: An Overview. In: Stars Above, Earth Below American Indians and Nature. edn. Edited by Bol MC. Dublin: Roberts Rinehart Publishers; 1998: 95-118.
2. McClellan C: My Old People Say: An Ethnographic Survey of Southern Yukon Territory-Part 1. Ottawa: National Musems of Canada; 1975.
3. Harmon DW. In: Sixteen Years in the Indian Country The Journal of DW Harmon. edn. Edited by Lamb WK. Toronto: The Macmillan Company of Canada Limited; 1957.
4. Stoddard NB: Micmac Foods, vol. re-printed from the Journal of Education February 1966. Halifax, Nova Scotia: Halifax Natural Science Museum; 1970.
5. Waugh FW: Iroquois Foods and Food Preparation, vol. No. 12; Anthropological Series. Ottawa: Government Printing Bureau; 1916.
6. Leechman D: The Pointed Skins. The Beaver 1948, March:14-18.
7. Weaver B: Canadian Inuit Food and Foodways. In.; 1992.
8. Schrader J, Oonincx DG, Ferreira MP: North American entomophagy. Journal of Insects as Food and Feed 2016, 2(2):111-20.
9. Bodenheimer FS: Insects as human food; a chapter of the ecology of man. Dr. W. Junk Publishers, The Hague, the Netherlands; 1951.
10. Russell F: Explorations in the far north. State University of Iowa, Iowa City, IA, USA; 1898.
11. Skinner A: The use of insects and other invertebrates as food by the North American Indians Journal of the New York Entomological Society 1910, 18: 264-267.
12. Harper F: The barren ground caribou of Keewatin. University Press of Kansas, Lawrence, KS, USA; 1955.
Insects are a very diverse group of invertebrate animals, including more species (around one million named species) than all other groups of animals combined. They have a distinct head with one pair of antenna and a few pairs of often specialized mouth appendages, a thorax, and an abdomen with three pairs of legs and usually two pairs of wings attached to the thorax .
Lice are a group of very small insects, less than 5 mm long, that are specialized for suckling on animal blood. In North America, there are over 50 species of lice known to feed on mammalian blood. The body louse (Pediculus humanus) feeds on human and can infests hair and clothing fibres, and also transmit diseases .
Ants are all part of a large family of social insects with individuals divided in castes playing different roles in the colony. Most ants in a colony are non-reproductive, flightless, working ants. Only reproductive queen and male ants have wings, but after the nuptial flight, queens shed their wings and males die. There are close to 700 ant species in United States and Canada, but the most well-known are those that are pests. The black carpenter ant (Camponotus pennsylvanicus) is a common large black ant, measuring from 6-13 mm long, and nests in dead wood, sometimes invading old buildings .
Grasshoppers are part of a large group of insects, including crickets, common in grassland habitats and well-known for the ability to jump, fly, and produce loud sounds during the summer months. Grasshoppers can be quite destructive, cleaning fields of their crops, and creating famines in many parts of the world. Most grasshoppers in North America belong to the same family and close to 250 species belong to the genus Melanoplus, including the red-legged grasshopper (Melanoplus femurrubrum), which is a very common species. Red-legged grasshoppers are around 2 cm long and can be brownish, yellowish, or reddish, but always have brightly red to yellowish lower hind legs .
Cicadas are part of a large family of insects best known for their sound production during summer day time. All cicadas have complex life cycles that are over 4-year long and all North American cicada species have either a 13-year or a 17-year cycle. The seventeen-year cicada (Magicicada septendecim) is dark coloured and measure around 3 cm long. Flying adults emerge in broods after living for most of their life as nymphs buried in the soil feeding off tree roots .
Parasitic flies include a large family of over 40 species of bot and warble flies all using mammals as hosts for their larvae. Warble flies and bot flies, including Hypoderma spp, like the caribou warble fly (Hypoderma tarandi), and Cuterebra spp, deposit their eggs on the animal, and once ingested, their larvae migrate to develop under the skin and later emerge from it .
Other insects include close to 11,500 species of butterflies and their larvae or caterpillars , tens of species of crickets, like grasshoppers and cicadas, well-known for their loud sound , and over 15,000 species of flies all part of the same large family .
1. Hickman CP, Roberts LS, Larson A: Animal Diversity. Boston: McGraw-Hill; 2000.
2. Arnett RH: Anoplura (sucking lice). In: American insects: a handbook of the insects of America north of Mexico. edn. Boca Raton, Florida: CRC Press; 2000: 235-238.
3. Arnett RH: Hymenoptera (wasps, ants, and bees). In: American insects: a handbook of the insects of America north of Mexico. edn. Boca Raton, Florida: CRC Press; 2000: 531-611.
4. Arnett RH: Orthoptera (grasshoppers, katydids, and crickets). In: American insects: a handbook of the insects of America north of Mexico. edn. Boca Raton, Florida: CRC Press; 2000: 153-179.
5. Arnett RH: Homoptera (cicadas, leafhoppers, aphids, scale insects, and allies). In: American insects: a handbook of the insects of America north of Mexico. edn. Boca Raton, Florida: CRC Press; 2000: 287-328.
6. Arnett RH: Diptera (flies and keds). In: American insects: a handbook of the insects of America north of Mexico. edn. Boca Raton, Florida: CRC Press; 2000: 835-924.
7. Arnett RH: Lepidoptera (months, skippers, and butterflies). In: American insects: a handbook of the insects of America north of Mexico. edn. Boca Raton, Florida: CRC Press; 2000: 631-827.