Exploring insect farming

This exercise is a part of Educator Guide: Down on the (Cricket) Farm / View Guide

Directions: After students read the article “Down on the (cricket) farm,” have them answer the questions below. Questions cover science content, reading graphs and writing style and language — and are categorized accordingly.

Science content

1. What is Ovipost and what is its goal?

Ovipost is a startup company that aims to automate cricket farming to make it more sustainable and economical.

2. Why is large-scale insect farming challenging?

Insect farming can be labor-intensive, which adds to production costs and makes insects more expensive than some meat. Cricket egg-laying and egg-counting, for example, are tedious and take a lot of time to manage. Insect pests are a big issue because the measures to control them can kill insect livestock, too.

3. Name one specific challenge Ovipost is trying to address and explain how.

One of the first things Ovipost did was automate the management of cricket egg-laying and egg-counting. Before, farmers would count offspring by coaxing them into measuring containers. Ovipost developed shortcuts that made the task easier and faster. Another example is that Ovipost is looking for a spray-on coating that could be used around the edges of cricket bins to keep the crickets from climbing out. The slick, brown packing tape currently used has to be replaced after several weeks.

4. Why are people interested in farming insects for human food? What happened in 2013 that altered the insect farming industry in the United States?

If developed, insect farming might be more sustainable than other forms of meat production, perhaps releasing less greenhouse gases than farming more typical sources of protein, for example. In 2013, a United Nations report argued that insect farming could be a way to meet the protein requirements of a rapidly growing human population. After the report came out, the insect farming industry in the United States experienced a boom. Insects are already commonly eaten in other parts of the world.

5. How many insects are considered edible? Why are some more environmentally friendly to farm than others?

There are more than 2,000 edible insects. How environmentally friendly they are to farm depends on factors including what they eat and what waste they produce. Some insects need meat to eat, which adds to their carbon footprint. Others, such as termites, produce the powerful greenhouse gas methane.

Reading graphs

6. According to the graph and caption “Power protein,” how does the protein content of the insects shown compare with beef and fish? Explain your answer.

Crickets, termites, grasshoppers and mealworms might pack more protein per 100 grams of body weight than cattle and tilapia, or they might have less. Protein ranges overlap depending on what the insects and other meat sources are fed, as well as other factors that go into raising them.

7. What does the “Gentler farming?” graph show? Explain the information presented on the x-axis and y-axis, including the units provided. Give an example of a quantitative data point that can be drawn from the graph. 

The graph shows greenhouse gas emissions of farmed insects and other livestock in various countries. The x-axis shows kilograms of greenhouse gases released per kilogram of edible meat farmed. The y-axis shows the country where details on the named animal or insect were gathered. Approximately 17 kilograms of greenhouse gases are released per kilogram of beef produced in Mexico. 

8. What is one conclusion that you can you draw from the “Gentler farming?” graph about the efficiency of cricket farming in Thailand? Make sure the graph supports your answer.

While cricket farming in Thailand already releases less greenhouse gases per kilogram of edible meat than farming chicken, salmon, pork and beef in European countries and Mexico, there is room for improvement. Cricket farming could be made to release even less greenhouse gases in the future.

Style and language

9. List and explain two ways the author uses imagery to describe current insect farming and insect farms.

The author describes insect farming as “silent ranching.” “Ranching” because it is animals and “silent” because, from the outside at least, the author wouldn’t even be aware it was happening. While farms typically bring to mind pastures and fences, insect farms in the United States are located indoors. The author describes insect farms as “less Old MacDonald and more server farm,” a reference to the buildings that house computer servers.

10. List and explain one way the author uses imagery to describe future insect farms.

The author discusses how cricket farms of the future might be similar to Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory. Like the fictional factory, cricket farms could highly automated, with a system of conveyor belts feeding and sorting crickets, for example.