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Open Access Highly Accessed Review

Environmental manipulation for edible insect procurement: a historical perspective

Joost Van Itterbeeck* and Arnold van Huis

Author Affiliations

Laboratory of Entomology, Department of Plant Sciences, Wageningen University, Droevendaalsesteeg 1, 6708 PB Wageningen, the Netherlands

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Journal of Ethnobiology and Ethnomedicine 2012, 8:3  doi:10.1186/1746-4269-8-3

Published: 21 January 2012

Abstract

Throughout history humans have manipulated their natural environment for an increased predictability and availability of plant and animal resources. Research on prehistoric diets increasingly includes small game, but edible insects receive minimal attention. Using the anthropological and archaeological literature we show and hypothesize about the existence of such environmental manipulations related to the procurement of edible insects. As examples we use eggs of aquatic Hemiptera in Mexico which are semi-cultivated by water management and by providing egg laying sites; palm weevil larvae in the Amazon Basin, tropical Africa, and New Guinea of which the collection is facilitated by manipulating host tree distribution and abundance and which are semi-cultivated by deliberately cutting palm trees at a chosen time at a chosen location; and arboreal, foliage consuming caterpillars in sub-Saharan Africa for which the collection is facilitated by manipulating host tree distribution and abundance, shifting cultivation, fire regimes, host tree preservation, and manually introducing caterpillars to a designated area. These manipulations improve insect exploitation by increasing their predictability and availability, and most likely have an ancient origin.

Keywords:
edible insect; entomophagy; facilitation; environmental manipulation; semi-cultivation; aquatic insect egg; ahuauhtle; palm weevil; palm larvae; caterpillar