Prospects of semi-cultivating the edible weaver and Oecophylla smaragdina

J. Van Itterbeeck

Research output: Thesisinternal PhD, WU


Keywords: entomophagy, edible insects, Formicidae, global food security, agricultural revolution, Lao PDR

An increased use of edible insects as human food and animal feed is a viable means to feed the growing human population and to tackle sustainability issues of the food production systems. The semi-cultivation of the edible weaver ant Oecophylla smaragdina Fabricius (Hymenoptera: Formicidae) in Southeast Asia can assure a sustainably supply of the highly favoured queen brood; reduce the environmental costs and financial inputs associated with non-biological pest control methods; increase the agricultural productivity of plantations; and trigger a sustainable diversification of agricultural produce. This thesis explores the sustainable increase of the availability, predictability, and productivity of O. smaragdina colonies. Because the procurement of edible insects has been facilitated throughout history, a detailed account was made of the indigenous knowledge of O. smaragdina and the harvesting practices. This revealed that the queen, the vital organ of the colony, is not known to the collectors, and that the collectors refrain from removing large numbers of worker ants. The investigation of the location and external characteristics of the queen nest suggests that this nest is ignored by the collectors because it is small and therefore could only yield a very small amount of queen brood. This study provides an easy way to identify the queen nest and as such facilitates the introduction and long-term establishment of colonies in designated areas (e.g., plantation, home garden). This thesis also suggests that the location of the queen nest within the colony’s territory is a structural adaptation that serves her protection, and shows the behavioural mechanisms (i.e., warning by worker ants, queen evacuation from her nest, and function of the retinue) that are involved to protect the queen from predators. A harvesting experiment was also conducted to investigate the resilience of a colony to harvesting its queen brood. This experiment showed that worker ant mortality can be very high and negatively affect subsequent brood production. Harvesting methodologies and techniques must thus be developed that avoid the loss of large numbers of worker ants. This thesis concludes that indigenous knowledge and modern science can benefit from working together to accomplish the semi-cultivation of O. smaragdina, but they require the support of governing bodies in the developed world and the developing world. Directions for future research are given. This includes the development of outdoor artificial weaver ant nests, analogous to artificial wasp and bee nests. Such a development can accelerate advances in our understanding of O. smaragdina, and, when well designed, can facilitate the queen brood harvest.


Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • Wageningen University
  • van Huis, Arnold, Promotor
Award date13 Oct 2014
Place of PublicationWageningen
Print ISBNs9789462570405
Publication statusPublished - 2014


  • oecophylla smaragdina
  • formicidae
  • insects as food
  • mass rearing
  • indigenous knowledge
  • history
  • food security
  • laos

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