Gardd Fotaneg Genedlaethol CymruNational Botanic Garden of WalesNational Botanic Garden of Wales
Garden blogs

Insects: new friends, and food!


Were you enjoying the beautiful sunshine and fun activities at the Garden on Saturday?

We had loads of fun welcoming in the February half term with everything from magic shows and firing trebuchet catapults to making high-flying rockets and learning about space.

We also had some special guests making their personal debut…

Giant African Land Snails! (Achatina fulica) 

Your average garden snails are no patch on these ones! They can grow up to 12cm long and weigh up to 600g. Their big slimey ‘foot’ is their only way to travel, and they’re very inquisitive creatures. They were kindly donated to us by Tania, who wanted them to make lots of new friends here at the Garden.

Madagascan Hissing Cockroaches! (Gromphadorhina portentosa)

Don’t be put off by the word cockroach, these little bugs are fascinating to hold or just to watch. Their tiny claw-like feet grip you so you can even hold them upside down and they won’t fall! They also make a hissing sound like a tiny cat to scare you off, but really they love the adventure of being handled by new people!

Indian Stick Insects! (Caraubius morosus)

We got our stick insects when they were very tiny – barely 1cm long! – so we are watching them grow and waiting until they are big enough to be handled safely. Hopefully by the Easter holidays they will be big enough to meet! That’s if we can find them in their cage – they are brilliant at disguising themselves as part of their food – brambles! Lots of you tried to guess how many stick insects we had hiding in the cage, and the correct number is…. 8!!

Did you come and hold any of our cockroaches? They got really excited to meet so many new people! They were very well behaved too (mostly), and didn’t hiss too much…

Did you try any of our edible insects? We had a selection of yummy (honest) treats for you to try, in the form of crickets, locusts, mealworms and buffalo worms – all dried and ready to eat! We in the office were all a bit apprehensive to try them at first, but we actually found (most of them) delicious!

It seems to be a big part of our culture in the ‘West’ for food to look appetising, and many of us wouldn’t dream of eating insects as part of our every-day diet, mainly because they still look like insects!

However, insects are an amazing source of protein which is utilised by many societies around the world without disgust. I recently watched a BBC Documentary by Stefan Gate where he travelled to Thailand and Cambodia to find out (and of course sample) how local people were getting cheap, nutritious protein sources with little environmental impact. It’s definitely worth a watch – catch it here on Iplayer (available until midnight Thursday 23rd January) or download it for £1.89 from the BBC Shop here. It really made me think about the possibility of including insects in my diet. I don’t think the restaurant here at the Garden will be rushing into anything though, so don’t worry!

We got one of our work experience staff – Sean – on the task of researching different ways to get insects. Most cultures do not eat insects raw (so that infamous reality TV show is giving insect eating a bad name!), but instead dry/fry or grind and bake them into foods. One product that caught my attention was ‘cricket flour’!

Insects are much more efficient creatures than our current protein sources (cows, sheep etc). Stefan Gates gives an interesting statistic in an article he wrote that ‘the ratio of energy intake (usually in the form of grain) to protein output for beef is up to 54:1 compared to 4:1 and upwards for insects’, making them a potential solution to the growing global problem of food security.

Another plus is that most edible insects contain very little fat, a lot of protein and loads of calcium and iron – so they’re a healthy option!

Maybe I still haven’t persuaded you, but if you fancy giving them a try, we’ll be getting our insect friends AND edible insects (don’t confuse them though!) out for you to meet in the Easter holidays, so come and say hello, and have a nibble!