Bug appétit: Great Insect Fair highlights insects as food

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Chocolate chirpies. Cricket cookies. Super-insect trail mix. Tune up your taste buds for these treats and more at Penn State's 2016 Great Insect Fair, set for 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 10, at the Snider Agricultural Arena at University Park.

Sponsored by the Department of Entomology in the College of Agricultural Sciences, the fair will focus on insects as food at the fair's "Insect Deli." Admission to the fair is free, but donations are accepted and, organizers say, greatly appreciated.

According to Alyssa Chilton, staff sensory scientist in the college's Department of Food Science, the practice of eating insects is known as "entomophagy." 

"Many cultures around the world consume insects as part of their diets and find them a delicious and healthy staple," she said. "They are a great source of protein and other nutrients, and they can be a quite sustainable food source. Many people believe insects may be one option to help solve the problem of feeding an ever-increasing population."

In addition to a focus on entomophagy, the Great Insect Fair will highlight pollinators, invasive pests and disease vectors, among other topics.

"Insects are cool, and they are also destructive," said the fair's chair, Steve Jacobs, senior extension associate in entomology. "Most people like and know about butterflies, but few are aware of some of the more complex interactions between arthropods that are difficult to see, perhaps because of their small size, cryptic nature, nocturnal activities and so forth."

Although these weird and wonderful insects — think praying mantises that look like leaves and giant hissing cockroaches — will be available for viewing, and sometimes even holding, the familiar and fair also will be on display. Among these more commonly seen insects, butterflies are particularly prized by visitors. Entomology graduate students are hard at work to prepare these beauties for presentation in the fair's "Butterfly Tents."

"Our aim is to get 100 or more adult monarchs for the fair, and we are trying to slow down the development of some so we have chrysalises and maybe even caterpillars to show to people, too," said Asher Jones, graduate student in entomology. 

Jones and her team of students and staff take turns feeding the caterpillars fresh milkweed twice per day. Once the adults emerge, they will feed them Gatorade.

"Unfortunately monarch populations are in decline in the wild due to habitat loss and many other factors," said Jones. "It's important that the public learn about their life cycle and biology so they can understand the importance of conservation and what they can do to help. Because the monarch is such a beautiful and iconic North American insect, it is a great flagship species for raising awareness about conservation."

Besides the Insect Deli and the Butterfly Tents, this year's fair will feature many other offerings:

  • Pesticide education games
  • Cockroach races
  • Honey tasting
  • Bee observation hives
  • Insect Zoo (live exhibits of many insects)
  • Bug collectors and collections
  • The Insect Construction Co. (arts and crafts)
  • Face painting and games
  • T-shirts and more from the Entomology Graduate Student Association
  • Vendors selling a variety of insect arts and crafts, books, and t-shirts

More information about the Great Insect Fair is available on the Entomology Department website.

Contacts: 
Last Updated August 25, 2016