Each year in Batangas, Philippines, a festival is held to help eradicate a major crop pest. Guest contributor Karen Uy describes the festival, which centers on a cooking contest with a unique featured ingredient: June beetles (Leucopholis irrorata), or as locals call them, salagubang.
I was first introduced to this insect as a young city girl living in Manila, Philippines. At the time, I sincerely believed insects belong crushed to death under flip flops and never in one’s mouth. So when my mother served beetles sautéed in soy sauce, my first thought was “No Way!” After a long consideration, I decided to try one as a dare. To my surprise, the dare became an awakening experience as I realized eating the bugs was fun and tasty! And, as the people of Batangas celebrate, eating June beetles provides a fun way to help manage an important pest.
In the Philippines, the salagubang is considered a serious pest of upland crops such as sugarcane and rice causing over 97 million peso (US $2 million) damage annually. June beetles grow underground as grubs until they are 16-30 mm long, then emerge after the first rain of the season. Therefore, entire plants are threatened as larvae feed on roots while adults eat leaves. June beetles are strongly attracted to light and therefore could be caught using a light trap. Be sure that what you collect to eat has not been exposed to harmful pesticides.
June beetles are also found in the US, and they are just as edible. Although the bugs aren’t considered invasive in the US, the idea of eating other insects as a way to control populations may be worth serious consideration.
In fact, insects may represent a preferable protein source compared to meat because they have almost no fat and are packed with protein and other minerals. For example, 100 grams of June beetles have ~13.4 g protein, 6 mg iron, and 22.6 mg calcium while lean ground beef has 27 g of protein, 3.5 mg iron, and no calcium. The Batangas Salagubang festival is a reminder of a sustainable future where we can turn a negative into a belly-full of positive.