Tag Archives: entomophagy

Harvester Ants (Pogonomyrmex sp.) Used as Ritual Hallucinogen by California Indians

Pogonomyrmex sp., probably P. californicus – harvester ants; were used as a hallucinogen and medicine by southern California Indians (Blackburn 1976, Groark 1996).

This genus of ants has the greatest mammalian toxicity known of any arthropod (Schmidt and Blum 1978, Groark 1996), with an intravenous LD50 of 0.3-1.1 mg/kg (Schmidt and Blum 1978, Groark 1996).

For use as a ritualistic hallucinogen, in the context of a “vision quest” of Indian youth, harvester ants were eaten after three days of fasting from food, water, and sex and not contacting blood (Groark 1996). In the daytime at an isolated location fully exposed to the elements, an experienced elder administrator, the ant doctor, would lay the youth on their back and feed him, somewhat forcibly, balls of moistened eagle down with about 5 ants inside each (Blackburn 1976, Groark 1996). The dose was regulated, from dozens to ninety or so balls, and the ant feeding stopped when the eyes of the youth turned red and he became lethargic and refused more (Groark 1996). The ant doctor then acts as if they are leaving momentarily, then sneaks up behind and pokes the ribs hard to startle the youth, provoking the ants to all sting his insides at once, causing the youth to pass out (Groark 1996). In most cases, the ants were eaten just once, but in some cases, when the youth awoke several hours later, he would be asked if they can take more ants, repeating the process if able for 2-4 days (Groark 1996).

In the near-death state, the youth would have visions, wherein he would obtain spirits of animals, dream-helpers, to help him in certain abilities in life (Groark 1996). For 4 days afterward, the youth must stay alone and he and the ant doctor must not speak to anyone (Groark 1996). To obtain shamanistic powers, the ants would be eaten in a similar mannar every summer until the powers were obtained (Groark 1996). The ants were also eaten similarly for a variety of ailments, from paralysis to severe colds (Groark 1996).



Blackburn, T. 1976. A query regarding the possible hallucinogenic effects of ant ingestion in south-central California. The Journal of California Anthropology 3(2): 78-81.

Groark, K. P. 1996. Ritual and therapeutic use of “hallucinogenic” harvester ants (Pogonomyrmex) in native south-central California. Journal of Ethnobiology 16(1): 1-29.

Schmidt, J. O. and M. S. Blum. 1978. A harvester ant venom: chemistry and pharmacology. Science, New Series 200(4345): 1064-1066).

Cricket Hunting Method of Nevada Indians

Eastern Nevada Indians hunted Mormon crickets at certain times, getting huge returns of meat for their time. American Indians all ate grasshoppers, crickets, and katydids in large numbers, and had many different methods of hunting them. The Mormon cricket is a large member of the katydid family found in the US Southwest.


Mormon cricket (Anabrus simplex)
From: http://pubs.usgs.gov/of/2008/1305/

Here was an interesting method used for capturing them:

On flat lands below foothills, quite a number of trenches were dug measuring a foot wide, a foot deep, and about 30-40 feet long, shaped like a new crescent moon with the horns facing uphill. The trenches were in a row, with ends joined or very close. The trenches were covered with a thin layer of stiff wheat grass straw.

At the hottest part of the day, the Indians divided into two parties, each going to one end of the trenches, and lined up single file uphill towards the foothills. Each individual was armed with a bunch of grass, which they swung back and forth as the line advanced toward the trenches (the description of the exact positioning is vague, but I’m assuming the Indians advanced from uphill, going diagonally, with one end of each line near the end of the trenches, and the other near the foothills but still far from the other party, and as they advanced, they covered all the space between them), driving the crickets [Anabrus simplex (Orthoptera: Tettigoniidae)] towards the trenches, leaving few behind, and creating a thick black tumbling mass of crickets before the drivers.

The crickets, when disturbed, can jump about one foot down hill, but only half a foot uphill, so will always go downhill to escape if possible. The Indians were exploiting this behavior.

As they reached the trenches, the Indians went slower to give the crickets time to crawl through the grass covering the trenches, into the trenches where they stopped, thinking themselves hidden and protected. Once all the crickets were driven into the trenches, the Indians set fire to the grass bunches in their hands and scattered it atop the grass over the trenches, causing a big blaze of smoke, which killed or stunned all the crickets inside within a few minutes.

The trenches were over half full of crickets, and only about one out of a thousand passed by the trenches without entering. The crickets are dried and ground whole on the same mill used for pine nuts and grass seeds, making a fine flour that will keep a long time if kept dry. A bread or cake is made with them, or the cricket flour is added to pine nut or grass meal to make a bread, making it sweeter.


Egan, Howard. 1917. Pioneering the West, 1846-1878: Major Howard Egan’s diary: also thrilling experiences of pre-frontier life among Indians, their traits, civil and savage, and part of autobiography, inter-related to his father’s. Howard R. Egan Estate, Richmond, UT.