When you’re caught in the middle of a survival situation, and have no other resources on hand for calories you might have to resort to eating the tiniest wild game- insects! As gross as it is to consider, many insects are edible and high in nutrition.
Among insects, some of the smallest and the most common are ants. But ants are so small one might wonder if they are even worth catching. Is it possible to eat ants and survive off of them?
Yes, you can indeed eat most ants to survive, including black ants, weaver and leaf-cutting ants (although you will have to catch a lot of them to make the effort worthwhile).
Ants contain a considerable amount of protein by weight, and many essential vitamins and minerals including iron and calcium. They also have fiber and fat, both necessary in survival situations.
But if you are going to try go the distance in a survival situation by eating ants, either as a supplementary food or as your primary mainstay, there is quite a bit more to know. We will provide you with more essential facts, tips and trivia regarding ants as a food source in the rest of this article.
Eating Ants Through the Ages
Insects in general, and ants in particular, have been eaten by various cultures around the world for millennia.
They are a global mainstay for those who by custom or by circumstances engage in the eating of insects because there are so many species of ants to choose from, and also that they are found in abundance on every single continent except Antarctica.
Even more important for preppers is that ants can be found year-round in all seasons so long as you know where to look, but they are much easier to both locate and harvest in the temperate months when they are most active above ground.
Even though ants are tiny in every sense of the word, some folks would make a mistake and disregard them as a source of survival calories. Yes, you’ll need to harvest a bunch of them to make a meal worth mentioning but ants are incredibly plentiful!
A single colony will contain anywhere from a few thousand ants on the high side to several hundred on the low side, with certain species capable of forming “mega-colonies” containing upwards of several million! That’s amazing, and they are all ripe and easy for the taking.
Be warned that you might not want to scoop them up by hand depending on the species, but we’ll talk about that as well as some additional ways to harvest them here in just a few minutes.
Nutrition and Taste
Nutritionally, ants are, like most insects, tiny powerhouses, often containing anywhere from twice to three times as much protein by mass as comparable mammal or avian sources.
You could do a lot worse when it comes to gathering food than spending the time collecting enough ants to make a meal, or at least a good snack.
Ants taste like a combination of sour, tangy and vinegary flavor. Some are even described as tasting of lemons or bergamot.
Most ants eaten raw are described as tasting sour, tangy or vinegary. Some are even described as tasting of lemons or bergamot.
If that does not appeal to you, ants can be cooked easily by roasting, gently pan frying, or even boiling which will work significantly to mellow their taste. But be advised if you boil them you will need an effective strainer to collect them again.
Ant larvae, which look like tiny grubs about the size of a grain of rice, are said to taste like almonds or walnuts and are even higher in fats than mature ants.
They are similar to cooking as the ants themselves and would go great in a soup.
These grubs can easily be found when an ant colony is relocating, being carried by various adults, or inside a colony that you break open or dig up. They are typically kept in a large chamber or series of chambers together. Ant larvae are also easy to cook.
Pros and Cons of Cooking Them
You don’t necessarily have to cook ants in order to consume them safely, but aside from mellowing their taste somewhat, cooking can potentially rid the ants of any bacteria, viruses or other parasites that they have managed to pick up.
Many survival instructors inform us that you can just pop ants into your mouth as you go, and this is certainly viable, but as always cooking is preferable to eating them raw.
But spending the time to cook something that is so tiny and so delicate as an ant might lead to loss of your catch, so use caution and have a plan before you heat up the pan or pot.
When Shouldn’t You Eat Ants For Survival?
Despite their tiny size ants might put up a fight when you try to catch them or eat them raw, meaning alive. Generally speaking, you want to avoid trying to catch and eat ants that have potent defenses in the form of painful stings or oversized and powerful jaws.
In the case of the former, you are likely to get covered with painful welts when attempting to gather them, and certain species capable of stinging pack quite a wallop and may inflict agonizing pain.
In the case of the latter it is far from out of the question that the ants might be able to bite you inside your mouth or even your throat, potentially choking you.
Any common venomous ants that are easily identified, like fire ants, should be avoided as they are just not worth the trouble and if you happen to get swarmed or have a bad reaction to their venom your survival situation might go from “bad” to genuinely “deadly”.
Assuming you are able to harvest significant numbers of ants that are known to be venomous you should take care to cook them at all costs, as this will help to break down their venom and will certainly kill the critters to prevent further danger before eating.
Stay Away From Certain Ants
You should make it a point to only eat live ants found away from urban or suburban areas. This is because they could have picked up something toxic from a local home or shop which will end up in your system.
Dead ants or any bugs in any location might have expired due to exposure to some poisonous plant or fungus and ants that are found in built up areas, live or dead, are exposed to every kind of pesticide since their intrusions into human dwellings are often met with extermination efforts.
Stay away from ants if you have allergies to shellfish and shrimp unless it’s a survival situation. They can cause a severe allergy response which can make the situation worse.
The Best Types of Ants To Eat
The estimated number of ant species in the world is 22,000, of which only 13,800 have been identified. They can be eaten all over the world and are often considered delicacies in places like Asia and Latin America. Only a handful are known to be edible as the rest potentially carry poison.
Black ants are the most popular variety to eat and are even crafted into a number of local dishes in India, Brazil, and other parts of the world. They are an excellent source of protein, fat, and minerals without the bite of some of the more aggressive ants.
Another popular choice are Weaver ants which are commonly found in Thailand, Bangladesh, and Cameroon. The interesting thing about them is how easy they are to locate since they live in trees and weave their colonies out of a silk material.
A Weaver ant’s larvae will provide up to 7 grams of protein per 100 grams of weight. Ant eggs will generally provide a higher protein count than the adults.
Honey ants are an edible type of ant that live generally in Australia and Africa, including Cambodia, Zimbabwe, Southern Africa, and Uganda. They collect honey on their stomachs to bring back to their nest which gives them an incredibly sweet taste.
Living in South America you’ll find the Leaf-cutting ants, one of several species that can be found in Mexico and Colombia. They cut portions of the leaves to take back to their colony. In a survival situation they would make a good source of protein.
Time to Catch these Critters
Catching ants is a relatively simple affair, though their small size, propensity to swarm and surprising ground speed can make this tricky if you are using your hand alone, not to mention painful in the case of ants that can deliver significant bites or venomous stings…
In any warmer season or location all you need to do is keep a sharp eye out as you walk around, and it won’t be long before you notice the distinctive mound of an ant hill or sometimes a cluster of smaller hills representing the same.
At this point you will certainly see a train of ants entering and exiting which you can then pick up before depositing into your container. You can also use a broad, firm leaf or even a stick to make collecting them easier.
If there aren’t many ants to be seen or you need more than what can be gathered from the trains moving in and out of the colony you can break open or dig up the ant nest partially.
Be ready as this will result in an eruption of ants. Keep your eyes open for the tiny, white or ivory colored larvae which will appear like grains of rice.
Make sure you are diligent, and really go for numbers while harvesting: you will need hundreds of ants to make a meaningful snack, and many thousands of them to make a legitimate meal.
Whatever the case, don’t get discouraged because there are plenty to go around!
It is possible to eat and indeed survive off of ants when you are desperate for calories in a survival situation. Ants, though incredibly tiny, are just as calorie dense and packed with nutrients and minerals as other forms of edible insect life.
Ants are so widespread and plentiful that you can be assured of finding enough of them to subsist on virtually anywhere you go, and so long as you are patient and persistent in collecting them you will be able to rely on them as a food source.
Tom Marlowe practically grew up with a gun in his hand, and has held all kinds of jobs in the gun industry: range safety, sales, instruction and consulting, Tom has the experience to help civilian shooters figure out what will work best for them.