All our mammalian friends are replaced by domesticated giant insects! Man's best friend are now dog-sized hissing cockroaches, fireflies are lightening our houses and harvestmen are used for transport. Consider present day technology, no magic - but instead of our most common mammalian companions, I'm looking for giant sized insects to fill their roles. Do not consider feasibility of this increase in size - for all that matters insects just happen to grow as big as mammals.

Cattle is used for meat and milk production and as draught animals. Which species of insects, given a boost in size and several thousand years of domestication, could replace them? Would it be more than one? They don't have to produce real milk, but some other digestible fluid would be cool! 

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    This question about Farming after the apocalypse - chickens or giant cockroaches? might give you some information about this topic. Interesting question. – Secespitus Apr 13 '17 at 8:25
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    You first have to get around the square/cube law, which requires a very different anatomy and surprisingly also about how insects breathe: they do it by diffusion which places limits on how large they can become. – Pieter B Apr 13 '17 at 8:32
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    @PieterB, yeah I know. But I don't want to consider that. That is why I wrote: "Do not consider feasibility of this increase in size". Should I rephrase it? – Pelle Lundkvist Apr 13 '17 at 8:41
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    The respiratory system of insects doesn't work for larger animals. No way to make it work -- see note 3 in the Wikipedia article on Meganeura. – AlexP Apr 13 '17 at 10:13
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    @AlexP, yeah I know. That is why I wrote "Don not consider feasibility of this increase in size" and did not include a "science-based" or "reality-check" tag! – Pelle Lundkvist Apr 13 '17 at 10:41
up vote 12 down vote accepted

I'm surprised that nobody has brought up honeypot ants.

They are social (unlike most insects), which, given breeding and domestication can be used by humans similarly to the way we use domestic animals inherent socialization instincts (dogs-packs, horses-herds, etc) by substituting humans for the instinctual social group. Honeypot ants are literally walking food containers. I could see these becoming something similar to a milk-cow easily.

Another very obvious choice is bees! We already DO domesticate and use bees in agriculture. There is a very ancient tradition of animal husbandry with bees. Basically, giant bees being used to help humans is a natural choice (once again, notice how we usually co-opt instinctively social animals?) I have no idea how the difficulties of the Square Cube law would apply to a gigantic flying insect, but it is entirely possible that if super sized bees were too weak to fly, they could get to food sources efficiently enough by just running. Perhaps bees would even be bred to minimize the stinger to the point of uselessness and kept as pets! (say, dog sized) Or, perhaps the stinger is retained, and that is the POINT (yuk yuk) and they would take the place of guard dogs.

Grasshoppers (and variants like locusts) are already traditional food sources going back to antiquity. They have more meat on their bodies proportionally than something like a cockroach or beetle, making them more efficient as a meat-animal. They also eat grass, so that's a pretty natural replacement for beef cattle. Once again, they tend to exhibit flocking behavior, which is useful when ranching because it keeps your herd together (one more time: we tend to domesticate social animals historically).

Another insect with a higher proportion of meat over something like a beetle is the potato bug. Putting aside it's utterly hideous appearance, potato bugs would be a pretty good meat animal as well.

Beetles do make sense for work like pulling things, though the solitary instincts and lack of brainpower might be downsides.

One thing to keep in mind: when raising a giant bug for food purposes, you don't need to go through the entire life-cycle. Many insects have a VERY useful "grub" or larval phase where they are pretty much helpless, soft, composed of basically nothing but protein, and mostly immobile. Bug ranchers would probably grow batches of insects to late larval stage, then slaughter them before they became full-grown insects with lots of tough exoskeleton that makes butchering much harder. Some ant species will keep other types of bugs as larva in a similar way, rather like the way we keep cattle.

Finally, don't overlook termites! Giant termites might actually be pretty darn useful. Imagine specially bred huge termites excreting natural concrete to build an overpass or even a high-rise! Obviously, this would take a LOT of careful oversight, control, and "training" (whatever that means for an insect), but there are some interesting possibilities. How about gigantic leaf-cutter ants clearing a path for a road? Obviously, the strength of a termite's saliva (or whatever it is they use to glue sand together) isn't going to increase, so a large building would take steel supports, etc, but natural termites and some ant species will make free-standing towers up to 30 feet tall.

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    Thank you for your detailed answer, honeypot ants are an awesome suggestion. As for a guard dog substitution, I rather see wasps or hornets replace them, as bees tend to tearing loose their sting in mammal's skin. – Pelle Lundkvist Apr 15 '17 at 8:15
  • The other thing I am wondering about (not only because of your termite answer): How feasible would it be to farm a state building insect? I imagine something like cockroaches is easier. – Pelle Lundkvist Apr 15 '17 at 8:21
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    I do like this answer best, as it has more than just one suggestion. – Pelle Lundkvist Apr 17 '17 at 20:49
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    @JBiggs Please note, the honey pot ants do not produce any fluid. The aphid bugs they use as cattle produce the fluid. So aphid bugs are the ideal. Though harvesting larval termights that are feed on fugus farms that grow on our wast would be an ideal protien source. – PCSgtL Apr 18 '17 at 20:18
  • @PCSgtL I looked into it. Some species take nectar or other plant liquids, too – Pelle Lundkvist Apr 21 '17 at 20:06

Giant Ant Cows to replace Human Cows

The aphid (otherwise known as Ant Cow) is a small insect that feeds on plant sap and secretes a sweet nectar (called honeydew). Certain species are actually domesticated by ants. The ants herd them and protect them from predators, harvesting the honeydew for food.

Upscale the aphids and make the honeydew nutritious to humans and you have your dairy cow replacement, providing meat and "milk". They are already domesticated, so one can pretty much skip that step.

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    human cows? surely bovine cows? – jk. Apr 13 '17 at 14:29
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    @jk. no, they are cows to humans, as the aphids are cows to ants (Ant Cow) – Whinja Apr 13 '17 at 15:04
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    @Whinja Ah, so a breastfeeding human mother would be a Baby Cow, not to be confused with a Baby Cow. – Sam Apr 13 '17 at 16:02
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    @Sam That metaphor doesn't work very well, because the baby doesn't protect the mother from predators (rather the other way around). – Brilliand Apr 13 '17 at 17:34
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    @Brilliand after thinking about how often I do eat meat, maybe humans are not doing a very good job at protecting cows from predators, either... – SJuan76 Apr 14 '17 at 7:03

Futurama has a 'Buggalo', similar to what you're looking for.

Beetles! There are many species of Beetles, some of them don't dig into the earth like other animals. It would make the farmers job hard looking underground for cattle. Decent body/meat ratio. Some beetle species even have a sense of parental care, making the farmers job easier. They are peaceful, don't fight each other and all they do is eat. They are omnivores. Better body armour than the average insect is making them more durable.

A problem could be the hive mind. Someday all cattle of a farmer could escape at the same time.

Flying could be a problem, but you can cut the wings.

  • Hei thank you for your interesting suggestion. Could you specify maybe a little more what beetle family would be best? A google search revealed that carrion beetles have parental care. Unfortunately they are mainly feeding on dead animals, which might be a little difficult to provide for huge farms. – Pelle Lundkvist Apr 13 '17 at 10:58
  • We already have enough problems with people protesting cattle, I can't imagine the shitstorm if we clipped the wings of millions of creatures for the purpose of farming (Chickens can't fly (high) and as such don't need their wings clipped) – SGR Apr 13 '17 at 12:50
  • @SGR I think the public wouldn't care as much, because Cattle have faces (and this makes them relatable). Bugs don't have faces that we can recognize. – Delioth Apr 13 '17 at 19:37
  • @SGR vegetarianism.SE might have people ready to enlighten you about current practices. Chickens do not get off easy. – user25818 Apr 13 '17 at 19:41
  • @SGR where I live chickens don't get clipped, as that regrows. They get burned at their wings. So it doesn't regrow. Chickens have it bad. – Robin Apr 14 '17 at 9:14

I'm not sure how pleasant it would be to drink (or what kind of excretion it is...) but aphids are already farmed and 'milked' for honeydew by ants and ladybirds (and possibly other insects) so they might make decent cow replacements.

From what I can tell it's mostly a sugar syrup though, so not at all analogous to milk as far as things like health benefits are concerned. But I doubt any insect is really going to produce something like milk which is a particularly mammalian trait.

Cockroaches (more specifically Diploptera punctate) will be your best bet.

  • They're not picky about their food and eat things that will typically already be on your farm.
  • Insect meat will probably all taste the same so who cares.
  • They breed quite fast so you can get lots of meat without having to have too many breeders
  • Since you can get a lot of them, just use more than one as beasts of burden
  • Most importantly: they milk

However this is ignoring the fact that one of the reasons for cows is that they will revitalize the soil where they are grazing, which can then be reused for crop. Mayhaps you would need another type of insect for that functions, one that would feed on grass perhaps.

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    I am pretty darn sure that giant cockroaches would consider humans (among other things) to be food. That might be a bad trait, especially considering that they are almost supernaturally strong, fast, capable of flight, and reproduce very rapidly. – JBiggs Apr 13 '17 at 16:45
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    Roaches prefer starchy food, so it should be easy to keep it fed and not dangerous. I don't really understand how they're supernaturally strong and fast (flight depends on the species) especially once you take into account the square cube law if we make it bigger. – Subbies Apr 14 '17 at 13:22
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    I learnt something new. @JBiggs raises a valid point though... However hissing cockroaches f.e. feed mainly on vegetarian sources. I cannot find any diet information for D. puncate unfortunately – Pelle Lundkvist Apr 15 '17 at 8:30
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    @JBiggs Cockroaches are opportunistic scavengers; while some may eat carrion or injured live animals they don't really hunt. They'd be no more dangerous to farmers than pigs. – IndigoFenix Apr 19 '17 at 6:05

Probably an insect in the grub stage, bred to grow very large, would fit the bill. Already, the palm beetle grub is a delicacy in the tropical places where it's found. Wikipedia only lists Asia and Africa, but it's also popular in the Amazon.

If you do an image search for palm weevil larvae, you will find images that mostly depict them cooked and prepared for eating. Not only are they nutritious, they are also tasty:

Sago grubs have been described as creamy tasting when raw, and like bacon or meat when cooked.

The larval form of insects is good to use as a food source, since biologically, their drive is to store up fat to burn later when they metamorphose into their adult form. If you harvest them in adult form, they've already used up that energy in metamorphosis.

Palm Weevil grubs would be a good candidate, because all they need for grazing is basically sawdust, palm wood stock, etc.

The Onthphagus Taurus species of Horned Dung Beetle is according to research one of the strongest insects in the world.

The beetle was found to be able to pull 1,141 times its own body weight.

If we are going down the route that insects are around the same size as 'pack' animals, that would work out to be one pretty strong beetle.

As for milking, I’m sure you can find something else to drink that is much more beneficial... like water.

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    Unfortunately, a giant beetle would not be as strong as the little one. Those things are not proportional. – EngelOfChipolata Apr 13 '17 at 9:26
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    The question poses the notion that the insects are the same size as animals. Which means surely they would have evolved to have relative strength for their size. Albeit that it would not be anywhere near as strong as its real-world counterpart - it would still be as strong as pack animals? – WrathTitan Apr 13 '17 at 9:44
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    Square Cube law in full effect. A Horned Dung beetle scaled up to animal size would only be as strong as a regular animal its size. – SGR Apr 13 '17 at 12:51

Lice, Bugs and More!

For all your Pet Insects needs and more!

Welcome to our new store full of pets and miniature livestock! I can see you know your hissing cockroaches, fireflies and harvestmen. Please take a drink and I will talk you through a small part of our selection.


Pets

First we have the smaller ones for in the house. Are you looking to keep the lice in check? Look no further then our lovely Ladybugs, they will hunt on all kinds of little critters.

Are you more the cuddling kind? I can really recommend our Wolf Spiders. Although not strictly insects, they are lovely. And quite smart. You can play fetch with them. And you can keep them in groups. Just look at these little ones! Cute aren't they?

If these are to small for you, get a loving tarantula. These are just big balls of cuddles. Very good with little children. But beware of strangers, they can be very protective of their adoptive family.


Miniature Cattle

We all know and love the big worker ants in the fields. But did you know there are several miniature species available?

If you want to keep your garden in shape, these mini-bees are a charm. Only half a meter high. They have been bred without wings, but they are still working nicely! And as always, they give some very sweet honey.

Of course there are several species of ants here. But I don't like them very much. To thin for my liking.

Then are the herds of Beetles. Very docile, but beware of where you keep them, they will eat anything. Can be kept indoors, with a little training they are house broken. Hey, stop munching on my coat!

And last not least my favourite: the mini-bumble bees. Just look at these galls! With their soft hairs and big eyes! And they make such good pets as well! I have a little hive of them at home :) you got to make sure you have a sturdy interior, they bumble, you see. But they are so sweet! Mine cuddle up with me at night, its just one big bundle of warmth!


So, is there one you like in particular? Oh, good choice with the Wolf Spider! Do you have a walking line and food? Oh, let me show you some. I really like this one, it colours nicely with this little one. And look, it has a very smart feature so you can easily attach it to your thorax. This way to pay please.

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