Episode IV - A New Hope


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Invertebrates (pdf)

New record site of Nannophya pygmaea - in the heart of Tai Lam Country Park
The China Water Beetle Survey (CWBS) - a biodiversity project of the superlative celebrates its 10th anniversary
Fried water beetles

Fried water beetles

by Yvonne Sadovy

The following brief summary comes from an article by Manfred Jäch (Jäch, 2003) on the human consumption of water beetles of the genera Hydrophilus (family Hydrophilidae: water scavenger beetles) and Cybister (family Dytiscidae: predacious diving beetles). Larger water beetles are still eaten in other parts of southeast Asia.

Guangdong province is somewhat famous for the diversity, if not of remaining wildlife, then certainly of consumed wildlife. Of the many choices on offer are species from the above two genera available in markets and restaurants in much of the province. The author describes his first experience of fried Hydrophilus; "Surprisingly, I found the cuticula (elytra, legs, etc.) not as prickly and undevourable as expected. In principle, one can eat the entire insect, although it is recommended to use only the relatively soft and protein-rich abdomen, which tastes vaguely like the meat of a turtle or a crocodile…..However, a strong flavor of the swampy pools and muddy puddles that are the beetles’ preferred habitat does not really help to improve their palatability." (Jäch, 2003)

The water beetles are evidently not taken from the wild but hatched out in special nurseries; in nature, species of the genera Hydrophilus and Cybister are relatively rare in the province due to insufficient habitat for them; the author collected very few in his field surveys.

After finishing the brief summary of Jäch's article, by chance I came across a little hard-backed book entitled 'Insects as human food' (Bodenheimer, 1951). The book documents the use of insects in human nutrition from pre-history to modern man. It is a fascinating account of the entomophagy of a wide range of insects in many different societies around the world. The little section on water beetles, as in Jäch's article, covers dytiscid and hydrophilid beetles, reporting that they are commonly sold in Guangdong Province and in Cantonese food shops in large cities such as Beijing and Shanghai. They are reportedly used both as medicine, considered to be antidiuretic, and as confection. For cooking, the book notes, they are boiled in salt water, or fried, with the elytra, legs and other chitinous parts discarded.

Although water beetles are the most common insects to be consumed, other insects were also noted by Bodenheimer as being eaten within China, and especially in the south. These included several species of cicadas, especially in the nymphal form, cockroaches, and various beetle, dragonfly and wasp larvae.


Jäch, M.A. (2003). Fried water beetles Cantonese style. American Entomologist 49(1): 34-37.

Bodenheimer, F.S. (1951). Insects as human food - a chapter of the ecology of man. W. Junk Publishers, Netherlands.



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