The Full Story
"My child just ate a beetle." "I think I swallowed a stinkbug." "My kids were eating ants."
Poison Control answers LOTS of calls about people who swallowed insects of all kinds. Callers don't know whether to be worried, disgusted, or (sometimes) amused. If you're squeamish about eating bugs, here's the bottom line: don't worry. If you'd like to know more, read on.
No matter where they live, children are willing to put just about anything into their mouths – including insects. Most adults in the U.S. find the idea repulsive, but children haven't learned that yet.
It is likely that eating insects – on purpose – began with our hunter-gatherer ancestors. In many countries, insects are now a usual part of the diet. They contain protein but little fat, they may be an abundant food source, and certain insects are considered delicacies. Grasshopper tacos, roasted stink bugs, boiled dragonflies, and fried ants are just the beginning of an international culinary adventure. Tequila bottles may contain worms – and so do some lollipops.
It is ALWAYS all right to call Poison Control at 1-800-222-1222 if you're concerned about children swallowing bugs (or anything else). In the case of insects, poison specialists assure the caller that the child has just eaten a bit of extra protein that will be digested along with other food. It is possible that hard, indigestible parts of the insect body (for example, grasshopper legs or beetle wings) will be excreted in the stools; parents and caregivers shouldn't be alarmed if this happens.
Related questions concern pesticides, if the caller thinks the bug was first killed by an insecticide. The amount of insecticide consumed with one or a few bugs should not cause any harm. Poison Control would be concerned, though, if the child had access to the area where the bug killer was placed or stored. In that case, remove the child from the area, wash the child well, and call Poison Control right away. The 24-hour number is 1-800-222-1222.
Rose Ann Gould Soloway, RN, BSN, MSEd, DABAT emerita
For More Information
For everything you ever (or never) wanted to know about the value of insects as food, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations offers resources:
Prevention is not really necessary.
This Really Happened
A 7-year-old child was ill at home, vomiting multiple times over the course of an hour when her mother noticed an intact stink bug (also known as a "shield bug") in the child's vomit. She couldn't be certain if the child chewed on this or other insects.
Stink bugs are not poisonous to humans, but when crushed or chewed they will often release a liquid that has a very foul taste and odor that can cause some stomach upset, vomiting, and mouth irritation if swallowed. It is common for younger children and toddlers to handle or taste these insects, but in most cases only very mild symptoms are expected to occur.
The child was able to tolerate food and fluids as usual, and the vomiting subsided a few hours later that day.