Posted by: Jeremy Fox | March 5, 2012

Poll: have you ever eaten your study organism? (UPDATED)

You’re encouraged to explain your answer in the comments.

UPDATE: Who’d have thought that almost half of you study delicious species? Lobster? Rainbow trout? Carrots? It’s as if you chose your PhD supervisors on an empty stomach. And hardly any of you have had the courage to actually eat disgusting/dangerous/fatal species? Where’s the excitement in that? Plus, the “craziest thing you’ve ever done for science” thread is being dominated by modelers and programmers who’ve fit billions of regressions or written hugely complex code–crazy, yes, but hardly in a way that sets the pulse racing. C’mon people, live a little! You all need to go out, eat some bugs, and then tag some sharks while using yourselves as bait. ;-)

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Responses

  1. No, I’ve never drunk a protist microcosm. Or eaten pencil and paper.

  2. I’ve eaten entomopathogenic nematodes and ghost moth caterpillars. Nematodes were tasteless but the ghost moths weren’t terrible. Flavor might have dramatically improved with some roasting but I realized that much too late.

  3. Caribou. My field assistant in the north brought a whole hind leg along for a multi-day vegetation sampling trip. We buried it in the permafrost and ate it for breakfast, lunch and dinner for three days…delicious!

    • In grad school, I lived with a guy who found a very recently-dead whitetail deer by the side of the road in the snow. So he strapped it to his car and took it to a butcher and lived on venison for several months.

      At the ESA meeting in Snowbird many years ago, I went to a party at a ski condo some ecologist had rented for the meeting. It was furnished with the racks of deer and antelopes from all over the world. IIRC, top mammal ecologist Joel Brown was at the party, and was showing some people around pointing to racks and saying things like “Kudu, I’ve had them, they’re delicious” and “Ugh, oryx. Never eat oryx, they’re really tough”…

      • My wife normally picks up road kills, an old habit. A few years back she insisted we should stop and collect a freshly killed field hare. We did. An hour later or so at the stop for gas she gut the animal in the ladies restrooms at the gas station. Wonder what the next visitor thought finding the sink bloody and a pile of intestines in the waste basket?
        The hare was delicious.

  4. I’ve never eaten tunicates, much to my chagrin. But – kelp, urchins, crabs, lobster, mussels? Oh yeah. My motto has always been “Don’t study what you can’t eat!”

    • Lobster and mussels? I’m not sure that even counts. That’s basically like someone who studies effects of cattle grazing saying “Yeah, I eat my study organisms–but only if they’re AAA grade and dry-aged”. Or an experimental evolutionary biologist who works on yeast saying “Yeah, I drink beer”. ;-)

      • Which begs he question, why aren’t we in oenological research? I always felt like I had chosen poorly as I walked through Davis’s Oenology department.

      • I was a postdoc with evolutionary geneticist Matt Goddard, who used yeast as a model system. He’s now a lecturer in Wine Science in NZ, where he teaches yeast genetics to trainee winemakers, and studies how yeast adapt to the winemaking environment. And yes, as part of the work in this dept., they are sadly obliged to make, and then “dispose of”, batches of wine.

  5. Charles Darwin himself was in his student days a member of the Cambridge “Glutton Club”, dedicated to eating animals not ordinarily found on menus. They tried hawk and bittern, but drew the line at an old owl carcass.

    And on the Beagle voyage Darwin, as one of the best shots on the ship, was often tasked with going out and shooting some provisions. He liked armadillo, which he said “looked and tasted like duck” when prepared, but pronounced the flesh of a large South American rodent “the best meat I ever tasted”. Famously, he also accidentally started eating a dwarf species of rhea (the “Avestruz petisse”, as he called it) before he realized what it was. He’d been searching high and low for a specimen, so quickly gathered up what bones and feathers remained for his collection.

  6. When I lived in London, there was a restaurant in Barnes, not far from where I lived, that had a whole menu of stuff not ordinarily eaten. One of the desserts was chocolate covered scorpions (which apparently are merely crunchy and chocolatey). Not being all that adventurous, I never went there.

    But it does occur to me that whether or not one’s study organism is disgusting could depend on how it’s prepared. I’ll bet lots of things become palatable if you coat them in enough chocolate. And Bill Cosby has an old standup routine about how Americans can eat anything as long as they can put it between two pieces of bread.

  7. I worked on native fruits, which were traditionally consumed by indigenous folks as a sugary snack. I tried a fair few native alpine fruits, but stopped at the poisonous berries. Some of the fruits were fine, some great, some pretty nasty and mercaptan-flavoured.

    • Yes, I imagine that’s the kind of thing where you really need to know what you’re doing to avoid poisoning yourself. Like working on mushrooms.

  8. Working in Hawaii with invasive species you get creative (and somewhat competitive) about how many invasives you can work into a meal- currently the mesquite smoked pork with pepper and guava glaze is the winner in my eyes (yes, all of those ingredients are invasive).

    • Jim Carlton once remarked to me that zebra mussels would be no problem if only they tasted good with garlic and butter and were large enough to be worth the effort of opening them. But your example would seem to give lie to the implication that only species which aren’t delicious to humans can become invasive.

      • Perhaps Floridians can be convinced to eat python-kudzu salad…

      • I’d say there are a lot of edible invasives. In Australia you can also eat goat and camel. Same with venison, goats, pigs, passionfruit and things like tahr in New Zealand. I’ve also heard rumours of possum-pie in NZ, but don’t think I’d go there…. I’d try python sans kudzu though!

      • And rabbit, of course.

    • This website, focusing on the consumption of invasive species, might be of interest: http://invasivore.org/

      Though I can’t imagine many species of invasive ascidian and bryozoan are particularly appetising

  9. Yeast! Saccharomyces cerevisiae. In bread, beer…yum.

  10. John Lawton used to encourage people to eat pigeons, which are a nuisance in many cities. I believe he called them “sky rats”. I did actually have a pigeon salad once at a London restaurant, it was pretty good, gamey and flavorful. But I don’t study pigeons, of course.

  11. At first I said “no” thinking about my PhD work–which was on mice. And muscle, actually. I always thought that it didn’t look that bad as a muscle though, and didn’t think it would be much different than trying to eat a chicken wing with buffalo sauce….

    But then I remembered my master’s project, which was on Daucus carota–carrots! That was easy. In fact, I had some at lunch.

    • You and Jarrett “Can you believe I’ve eaten LOBSTER?!” Byrnes have kind of missed the point of this thread. ;-) (just kidding)

    • Me too. I’ve worked with dozens of plant species and probably hundreds of arthropod species, so at first I said no, thinking of the arthropods, but I did eat some wild blueberries that were growing near my study plots, and the plots contained blueberry bushes, so I guess the answer is yes, and they were fairly delicious.

  12. I did my Master’s degree on rainbow trout. Of course, I ate some.

    • Contrary to my expectations, so far people are mostly bragging about how delicious their study organisms are rather than how gross. ;-)

  13. I tried some Joshua tree petals after my fellow grad student and I were approached—in the middle of fieldwork outside Yucca Valley, California—by a local who claimed that they were an excellent substitute for bell peppers. He was incorrect.

    • If I were a “local”, I would totally entertain myself by trying to con any unsuspecting ecologists I encountered into eating weird things. ;-)

      So, what do Joshua tree petals taste like, if not bell peppers?

      • Joshua tree flowers taste like soap. Or, probably, defensive saponins.

      • “Joshua tree flowers taste like soap”

        So a traditional but ecological parent could tell their child “Watch your language, young man, or I’ll wash your mouth out with Joshua tree flowers!”

  14. My PhD dissertation was on crickets, which are delicious dipped in chocolate. I’ve also eaten meal worms and wax worms.

  15. I have eaten raw ‘n’ wrigglin’ Euphausia pacifica before. It tasted…salty.

  16. Yes, and in retrospect, use of the word “liquor” in the pitcher plant literature is quite misleading.

    • LOL!

  17. I recently caught some cod and saithe in order to assess diet. After removing the viscera and taking small tissue samples, I was left with the small problem of how to “dispose of” the remaining muscle tissue……

  18. No, I dont eat freshwater gammarids and snails.. Probably becource they are tiny and don’t look tasty

  19. I work with crayfish, so it’s not unusual to consume my study organism and I’ve voted ‘Yes’… but, I have to admit: I’ve never had the my study species per se (Orconectes obscurus) just the commonly eaten Red Swamp Crayfish, Procrambarus clarkii.

    I have a friend and colleague who works with Mormon Crickets, which primarily consume sage brush. Hearing his description of eating his study organism is priceless.

  20. I nibbled on a few pea aphids (Acyrthosipon pisum) during my PhD thesis. Mostly out of a futile sense of revenge, the fiddly little bastards. I didn’t notice any particular taste difference between red and green colour morphs though.

  21. [...] was from an old friend of mine. But since so many of you were keen to share your stories of eating your study organisms and doing crazy things in the name of science, I figured I’d give you another chance to toot [...]

  22. I’ve already seen Bear Grylls eat my study organism. It made him squeal like a girl

    No way that I’m eating it.
    P.S. Bear, they taste bad because they nearly completely full of nasty green tangy rotten shit


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