When discussing survival scenarios, especially long-term scenarios or ones where you are trapped in the middle of the wilderness, the topic of hunting for food often comes up, and for obvious reasons.
But, this discussion typically overlooks small game, and I’m talking about really small game in particular: insects.
Although eating insects is nothing new in human history, the concept is still largely foreign to many westerners, but it’s something you should consider because many insect species are highly nutritious and more importantly for us very, very easy to catch.
Among the humblest and also the most plentiful insects on the globe are ants. So, can you eat ants to survive?
Yes, you can survive by eating ants. Though tiny, ants contain lots of protein and a good assortment of vitamins and minerals. However, you’ll have to catch a bunch of them in order to make a sizable portion of food.
Believe it or not, eating ants as a specific food source is nothing new in various cultures around the world.
Considered as a source of nutrition they actually have an awful lot going for them, but the logistics of catching enough ants to make a genuine meal out of them is a complication.
I’ll tell you about the good, the bad, and the ugly of eating ants in a survival situation throughout the rest of this article.
How Do Ants Taste?
I guess we should address the elephant in the room before we go any further. How do ants taste?
If you’ve never eaten insects before, it is probably difficult for you to imagine them tasting like anything except pure, distilled grossness.
I’m happy to report that the reality is somewhat different, and it depends on whether or not you are eating the ants raw or cooked, and also the species of ant in question.
Ants are typically described as having a taste that ranges from citrusy to sour, and everything in between.
Some people report that ants have a not-unpleasant tanginess or vinegar-like taste, and other people describe them as tasting almost like a lemon or lime.
This is all assuming that you are eating them raw, too: When they are cooked, usually accomplished by pan-frying or slow roasting near a fire they won’t taste quite so sour.
Something else to consider is that you can eat more than just adult ants. There are tiny larva, ant babies, stored deep and safely inside their nests that are about the same size and consistency as a grain of rice.
These larval forms are said to have a slightly oily almost nutty taste that is easy to get used to.
In any case, you can do a whole lot worse than eating ants when it comes to flavor, especially compared to some other insects and they do take well to cooking and seasoning if you have time, ingredients or both.
Are Ants Nutritious?
Yes, they are! This is in fact the standout benefit of ants as food, aside from their sheer multitude and easy availability.
First, it’s important to understand the nutritional profile of the individual ant to make an informed comparison.
Though they are tiny, ants are extremely powerful insects and that means they contain a ton of protein as a percentage of their overall mass.
This protein can help keep you going over the long haul assuming you can catch enough ants.
Even better, they have plenty of other nutrients besides, including a good complement of vitamins and minerals (like iron and calcium), carbohydrates, and even some fat. The tiny larvae are very similar nutritionally, and contain even more fat than adults.
Whatever the case and whatever the species, ants are definitely worth your while nutritionally assuming you can collect enough of them.
Is it Safe to Eat Them?
It is generally safe to eat ants, although as you might expect there are some things to be aware of before you set about catching them.
Many ant species are quite capable of defending themselves, either through the use of venomous stings, noxious expulsions from their front or hind ends or just powerful, mechanical jaws that could injure you or even get snagged in your throat.
If you just start scooping up an unknown species of ant willy-nilly you could be in for a really bad time as their stings can add up quickly.
Although the vast majority of ant species have medically insignificant stings, if you accumulate enough of them it could trigger a bad reaction, and you might not be able to rule out an upfront allergic reaction to even a single sting.
A few species of ants, like the infamous bullet ant and the fire ant, have potent stings that can leave lasting injuries.
Ants like these might not be worth the trouble to collect since it is going to entail even more work to collect them safely and then dispatch them through cooking before you can eat them.
If you should happen to get swarmed, you might have a medical emergency on your hands in an already bad situation.
In all cases, if you’re collecting ants that could pose a risk, be careful: thoroughly cook particularly venomous ants in order to help neutralize their venom, and consider pinching the heads off of any ant that has substantially large jaws prior to eating.
Should You Cook Ants or Eat Them Raw?
If you have time and opportunity, cook the ants that you catch. This will improve the flavor, kill the ants, and also eliminate any germs and parasites that they might be carrying.
Now, it should be pointed out that most species of ants can be eaten alive with little difficulty.
Yes, I know the notion sounds terrible, but I am telling you that it is possible when you are in a major bind.
Most ants are too small to pose any significant risk even when eaten live; just take care to chew them in order to dispatch them.
If you do decide to cook them, though, you’ll need to take care that you don’t burn them up, lose them, or otherwise waste your catch. Easier said than done when working with the smaller species!
What’s the Best Way to Catch a Lot of Ants?
Catching ants is easy in theory, but sometimes difficult in practice. They are tiny, they swarm, and they are surprisingly quick to react meaning that catching and restraining them can be quite difficult.
A good strategy is to try to lure them into a trap using a bottle, jar or some other escape-proof container with a lid.
Alternately, all you need to do is keep your eyes peeled as you are moving around out in the world for signs of their nest, be it above or below ground. They are almost always easy to spot.
Even ant nests that are totally subterranean will usually have small, funnel-shaped mounds near the entrances or the ants dispose of detritus, and rarely will you fail to see a “conga line” of ants going in and out.
When you do find a nest, be sure to only dig it up with a tool you should have at hand, and not with your bare hands.
Otherwise, you risk exposing large concentrations of larvae and adults without mixing them into the soil and losing them. Then, try to collect them or scrape them up using a leaf or some other flat object.
Take care: they will not appreciate this intrusion and destruction of their home, and will retaliate.
It might take you a while to collect a sizable amount of them, but I can promise you they are out there in tremendous abundance: ants are among the most successful insects on Earth!
Ants Can Be a Great Survival Staple
After reading all of this, it might sound like that ants are just not worth the trouble as a food source, but I can assure you that isn’t the case.
Not only are ants highly nutritious and very easy to catch compared to larger game, they can be found literally everywhere around the world except the poles.
Hence, by familiarizing yourself with the ant species in a given area you’ll always have an easy time tracking them down.
Learning to make the most of these tiny insects could make the difference between life and death when you are desperate for food in a survival situation.