Can you eat caterpillars?

In this short article, we will provide an answer to the question, “Can you eat caterpillars?” with an in-depth analysis of caterpillars, poisonous caterpillars, risks associated with eating caterpillars, nutritional value and health benefits of eating caterpillars. 

Can you eat caterpillars?

Yes, you can eat caterpillars. Caterpillars are safe for consumption. In fact, they are a good source of essential nutrients hence, they provide various health benefits. 

However, when eating caterpillars you must be careful not to consume poisonous species of caterpillars which are easily distinguishable. 

What is a caterpillar?

It is the larval stage of a butterfly or a moth. It is the second step of their life cycle that consists of four stages i.e., egg, larva, pupa, adult. Almost all caterpillars possess cylindrical bodies with multiple segments. They have three pairs of true legs on the thorax and numerous pairs of short and fleshy pro-legs on the abdominal region. 

The head of the caterpillar possesses six small eyes (termed as stemmata) on each side that function to detect light but can form an image. Caterpillars have tiny segmented antennae and powerful jaws. 

Caterpillars, also known as mopane worms and Imbrasia Belina, make for a savoury meal. They have a sweet, salty, bitter, and umami taste. They are consumed as a seasonal delight in many southern African countries. When caterpillars are fried, they remain tender and meaty from inside and have a delicately crunchy exterior.

Many caterpillars constituting the order Lepidoptera are known as worms, including the silkworm, armyworm, and measuring worm. They are fleshy, colourful, and wiggly.  

What kinds of caterpillars to avoid?

When eating a caterpillar, be aware of the major risks:

Their toxicity to humans – Do not consume hairy, colourful, or unidentifiable caterpillars. If consumed, they can lead to various side effects ranging from an upset stomach to extreme pain to death.

Although many caterpillar species are completely safe to eat, caterpillars that have colourful patterns and are furry can be a danger to humans. The key is to accurately identify before eating them

If you are ever doubtful about a certain type of caterpillar you have discovered, it is best to leave it there and look for another one. Even if the poisonous caterpillar may not kill you, it may lead to other reactions that put you in more serious health problems than starvation.

Poisonous species of caterpillars

Some common poisonous species of caterpillar are mentioned here that should not be consumed in any circumstance:

  • Hickory Tussock Caterpillar 
  • The Puss Caterpillar 
  • Cinnabar Moth Caterpillar 
  • Saddleback Caterpillars 
  • Hag Moth Caterpillar 
  • Buck moth Larvae 

How to eat caterpillars?

As caterpillars are widely eaten in most cultures, the process of cooking them is well studied. In regions of Africa where the mopane caterpillar is a popular treat, these insects are collected from their habitats before their intestines are separated. They are then simmered in saltwater and kept for drying for several days. 

By using this method, you can prefer to eat them just as they are, or rehydrate them prior to frying, if possible.

Nutritional composition of caterpillars

Caterpillars provide a good amount of nutritional value. A 100-gram serving of dried caterpillars provide:

  • 390 calories
  • 55 grams of protein
  • 9 grams of carbohydrates
  • 11 grams of fat

Caterpillars are also a good source of minerals including phosphorous, calcium, potassium, sodium, manganese, magnesium, zinc, and copper. 

Health benefits of eating caterpillars 

Following are some of the health benefits of eating caterpillars:

Caterpillars help to prevent anaemia

Caterpillars consist of 31 milligrams of iron in every 100 grams. Iron is essential for the haemoglobin component present in the red blood cells. These red blood cells, among other things, are mainly responsible for the transport of nutrients and oxygen to the tissues around the body. 

Low levels of haemoglobin lead to the development of anaemia, which is chiefly characterized by fatigue and pale skin.

Caterpillars help to improve muscle health

Caterpillars provide a good source of protein that is important in the formation and repair of muscles.  

Caterpillars help to prevent gastrointestinal problems

Caterpillars are a good source of fibre that is required for the proper functioning and maintenance of the gastrointestinal tract. It helps to prevent problems associated with constipation.

How many caterpillars make 100 grams?

Caterpillars are present in different sizes, but by taking an average amount of about 3 grams you would need approximately 33.3 caterpillars to benefit from the essential nutrients present in caterpillars. 

Shelf-life of smoked caterpillars

Fortunately, smoked caterpillars have a shelf life of up to three months, which makes them a perfect food source for places where other alternatives may be difficult to come by.


In this short article, we have provided an answer to the question, “Can you eat caterpillars?” with an in-depth analysis of caterpillars, poisonous caterpillars, risks associated with eating caterpillars, nutritional value and health benefits of eating caterpillars. 


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