The 81st Annual Meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists (2012)

Nutritional contributions of insects to primate diets


1Department of Anthropology, Hunter College of CUNY, 2New York Consortium in Evolutionary Primatology, 3Institute of Natural Sciences, Massey University

Saturday 8:30-8:45, Galleria South Add to calendar

Almost every primate accidentally or intentionally eats insects. The portions of insects in primate diets varies from large to small; a major portion of the diets of smaller primates (<1 kg) are insects, while most folivorous primates do not deliberately incorporate insects in their diets to a large extent. Consumed insects provide substantial amounts of energy, protein, and minerals, depending on the type of insect consumed and its amount in the diet. Here, we review the nutritional contributions to insect diets by synthesizing all published data on the nutrients in insects consumed by primates, from aye-ayes (Daubentonia madagascarensis) to gorillas (Gorilla gorilla). We use a new framework of nutritional ecology, the right angled mixture triangle, to compare insects with other primate diet items, and human entomophagy. Our results suggest that in general social insects consumed by primates provide more energy per gram than solitary insects, which provide more protein. All types of insects typically provided more protein than leaves, and many provided more energy than fruits. In addition, insects provide a major source of sodium, which is typically limited in primate diets. Intraspecific variability was evident in that different insect stages provided differing amounts of nutrients. Our results highlight the importance of insects in primate diets and call for more investigations into the nutritional content of insects eaten by primates.

This research was funded in part by NSF #0922709

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