Food may be a second-tier survival need following shelter and water, but you will need to feed yourself if forced to live off the land for a significant length of time. But while many may hope to satisfy their caloric needs with venison, turkey or other popular game, there are many reasons these food sources may not be readily available.
For starters, you may lack the tools to hunt and harvest large, mobile prey. You could also find yourself trying to survive in small habitat patches, which do not support vast numbers of large animals. Fortunately, there are a number of smaller, less-mobile food sources in the forest which can help keep your belly full and morale high.
We’ll share some of the best examples below, so that you’ll be better prepared to survive if the unthinkable happens.
Snakes may not sound particularly appetizing, but they are a potential food source for those who find themselves in a survival situation. There are more than 3,000 snake species in the world, so it’s difficult to make broad generalizations, but the vast majority appear to be edible – especially those who grow large enough to represent enough calories to be worth the effort to catch them.
Care should obviously be exercised, as some species are dangerously venomous. But, if you are truly faced with the choice of starving or catching a snake, you’ll likely find it possible to dispatch a serpent from a safe distance using a long stick. You could also throw rocks at the creature until it dies. Just cut off the dead animal’s head safely, as dead snakes may still bite reflexively.
Aside from the safety issues involved in capturing or killing the animal, there’s no real difference between eating a venomous or non-venomous snake. But you’ll still want to familiarize yourself with the species available in your area.
Clean the snake as you would a fish – remove its skin, cut off the head and remove the internal organs – and cook it thoroughly before eating to help kill off any bacteria or parasites present. You can boil snake meat in water or roast it on a stick over your fire.
Some terrestrial and semi-terrestrial turtles – with box turtles serving as the best-known example – consume toxic mushrooms, which makes them unsafe to eat. But most aquatic varieties with relatively flat shells are safe to consume if cleaned and cooked properly.
The bulk of the meat from a turtle is found in the legs and tail. There are some internal organs you can eat, but unless you’re already familiar with the process of butchering a turtle, this probably isn’t something you want to learn via trial and error.
The biggest danger turtles likely present is their sharp beak. Alligator snapping turtles and common snapping turtles are notoriously foul-tempered and capable of inflicting very serious wounds, but most people already know this. What many fail to understand is the fact that any large turtle can likely do the same. This is especially true of softshell turtles.
So, use extreme care when trying to capture or kill turtles, and be sure to cook them very thoroughly to kill any bacteria or parasites present.
Earthworms are represented by more than 1,800 different species worldwide, so, as with snakes, it is difficult to make broad generalizations. That said, most authorities agree that all species are edible. Most also agree that they’re gross, but when you’re in a survival situation, you can’t afford to be picky.
Be sure to purge the worms before cooking them. You can do so by simply placing them in a container and waiting for them to empty their digestive tracts. Alternatively, you can try to simply squeeze them like a tube of toothpaste to void their intestines.
Once free of sand, grit, and other stomach contents, you’ll want to cook the worms thoroughly to eliminate any pathogens they may be carrying. There are multiple ways to do so but boiling and pan-frying are likely the easiest.
A variety of insects are edible, and some are considered a delicacy in other portions of the world. Given their size, insects obviously won’t provide a ton of calories on an individual basis, but they are usually full of more protein than you may expect. They’re also abundant, so it is often feasible to collect large numbers of them.
Ants may be the most ubiquitous insect in most habitats, although many are capable of inflicting painful bites or stings. So, it is typically wise to kill them as you go, unless you have a suitable and secure collecting container. It would also be wise to avoid species that boast powerful venoms, such as fire or bullet ants. Termites are also edible, just be sure to cook them until they’re crunchy when preparing them.
Most orthopterans – crickets, grasshoppers and their kin – are also edible, and they’re often very easy to catch in reasonable numbers. Just be sure to avoid eating brightly colored species, as they can be toxic. It’s also important to prepare grasshoppers properly: Pull off the head (the entrails, which you’ll also want to remove, should come along with the head), remove the legs and then cook them thoroughly to kill any parasites present.
Many crustaceans are not only edible but downright delicious. People often pay top dollar for some, like Alaskan king crab or lobster. But we’ll assume that you already know you can eat these types of crustaceans, so we’ll focus on two others that are common in North America.
The first is also commonly served up in restaurants and dinner tables: the crayfish. There are more than 400 species known worldwide, and they’re all thought to be edible. Just be sure to cook them thoroughly by boiling them in water before eating them. In general, the only portion of the crayfish you should eat is the tail, although many people “suck the heads” without suffering illness.
The other edible crustacean you may encounter in a survival situation will usually be found on land. Known by a variety of names including pill bugs, sow bugs, woodlice and roly polies, many people aren’t even aware that these “bugs” are crustaceans. In fact, their flavor is often likened to shrimp!
Collecting pill bugs is easy – just start flipping over logs. It won’t take you long to catch a fistful. Once you’ve collected enough, just fry them up on a pan or drop them in boiling water.
It is important to note that the food sources discussed above are treated generally – you’ll have to familiarize yourself with the specific species in your region before relying on them for sustenance. But after doing so, you’ll undoubtedly be better prepared to take care of yourself if forced to eke out a living amid the forest.