Slimy yet Absolutely Traumatizing (or WTF Hercules Beetle Grubs?)

I’m pretty good with bugs if they’re properly sheathed in a crunchy carapace. Maggots and grubs, though, can give me the willies.

For example, I’m absolutely fine with the adult Hercules beetle.

I am not fine with the larval form.

Hercules beetle grub

©Novita Estiti.

I am incredibly not fine with the thought of taking a leisurely stroll through the woods and tripping over this infantile incarnation of Voldemort – because I’m a Muggle, and nobody, nothing, not even mother’s love can protect me fast enough from the nightmares that will ensue.

But as with most things that will kill or traumatize me, I had to get some stats. If you share my aversion to potential headcrabs, you may understand my need to be prepared for the day of reckoning. Constant vigilance is the key to survival.

First, you should be aware that the largest species (Dynastes hercules), pictured above, do not live in the United States, though smaller species do live in the southwest, southeast, and all along the east coast. Most residents of Venezuela, Columbia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, and neighborhoods of Chile, Venezuela, Brazil, and the Lesser Antilles are privileged to live with the giants.

Now, these buggers looked pretty damn big in all the pictures, but what’s the heft?

The Wikipedia article’s weight estimate was 28 grams, a number that is both not cited properly and visually incongruent. I sought further evidence on this front.

A couple search results (1, 2, 3) and a number of beetle-raising diaries on Bug Nation (one guy recorded the weights of 16 larvae into adulthood, while another is currently raising 5 and all are far past the 28 gram mark) put the goal record weight around 120 grams (~2.6 standard Hershey chocolate bars) in their third and final larval form – Hercules beetle grubs, like most bugs, will molt several times into progressively harder forms. The 4.5 inch length record stood through these readings.

Now, my vision of just tripping over a grub in the woods is mostly paranoid and unfounded because they spend much of their life underground or nestled away in rotting wood, since that’s supposed to be their main fare. But I also read in the bug diaries that they will bite – look at those pincers – and they can bite hard.

I found this incredibly disheartening.

When I voiced my dismay via social media, my friend in public health took a look at the picture and naturally (I guess) inquired after their nutritional value.

“I feel like farming these guys could feed a village,” she wrote to me.

I mean, I guess. Shades of Timon and Pumba say you’re probably right.

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN conveniently published a rather detailed document on entomophagy – eating insects – this year. It dedicates a hefty section to describing the nutritional value of commonly eaten bugs, drawing heavily on Birgit A. Rumpold and Oliver K. Schluter’s recent survey of 236 edible insects.

Dynastes hercules was not a part of their extensive table, but a grub I’ve arbitrarily fingered as a potential equivalent (and I freely admit I based this decision on aesthetics alone) is mentioned.

Witchetty Grub

The witchetty grub is large, white, and feeds on wood – but definitely smaller, weighing in around 1.5 grams, though comparable in length at ~4 inches. They live in Australia and belong to a loose association of insects that all feed on the same bush. Officially, they’re considered to be the babies of the cossid moth or the longicorn beetle larvae (…these seem vastly different to me, but okay).

The Aborigines made fine use of the witchetty grub as a source of protein and fat. The UN review used this larva as a prime example of an edible insect with high unsaturated fat content, as an omega-9 mono-unsaturated fatty acid known as oleic acid composed 39% of its dry weight. On average, 100g of witchetty grubs contain 16g of protein and 29g of fat – which beats tofu by several long strides (great graphic here).

Witchetty grubs are eaten raw or cooked. When raw, they apparently taste like almonds (um). When they’re pan-fried, apparently they develop an additional fried egg flavor, and their skin becomes crispy like roast or fried chicken.*

Recipes and nutritional value for witchetty grubs are much more readily available than that for Hercules beetle grubs. Perhaps you’re asking what the hell people actually do with these slimy burritos from hell if they’re not fleeing in horror or eating them.

The answer is best summarized by future guest blogger, classmate, and amateur entymologist Sarah Yu, whose response to my assertion that she probably knew the nutritional value of a Hercules beetle grub was, “Grubs make incredibly gentle, friendly pets and I resent all of this slander.”

(But she does go on to speculate that, “I imagine that it would have the consistency of a bean burrito. A bit springy on the outside, with a creamy, variable inside.”)

So in sum: I guess rearing a potential headcrab can’t be worse than owning a Doberman pinscher.

But I’d still sleep uneasy.

*I did shoot these guys a casual email asking them if comparing the Hercules beetle and Witchetty grubs was a sound thing to do, and the founder wrote back saying, “We suspect if it is indeed a larva it could very likely share similar nutritional value and ingredients as a Witchetty grub. There is no harm in eating it especially if it were farmed safely.”

So there’s that.

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