After the Rainfall – Thailand’s Mang Mao Insects
Western people are genuinely fascinated by the merest mention of Thailand and insects. Thais eat insects, they are considered to be a delicacy but westerners, bar one or two, find Thais penchant for insects a bit quirky, and a peculiarity and curiosity that’s hard to ignore.
I’ll admit I find the smell of freshly cooked crickets, grasshoppers, beetles and giant water bugs quite repulsive, but I’ve always thought, and still do, that Isaan and its people aren’t going to change their eating habits to suit me.
The foul odour of insects frying in a wok may roll my stomach over, but there is one particular Thailand insect which although it’s eaten by very few Thais, I try to avoid even more. Thailand’s winged mang mao insects.
Thailand’s Kamikaze Mang Mao Insects
Thailand’s rainy season is from May to October and mang mao insects take flight at night after heavy rainfall generally during May and June. The insects fly in search of new breeding grounds but will swoop in their thousands on a brightly lit house through an open window or door. Bright lights are an invitation for these winged insects to seek and explore.
Mang mao are eusocial insects, termites with reproductive queens, soldiers and workers in their three caste colonies. The caste which is a real ‘pest’ are from the reproductive group (the workers and soldiers are wingless), and they take flight in a huge swarm after heavy rainfall to mate and pair off in search of soft ground to burrow into and start a new colony. The termites need the soil’s moisture to survive but the lure of bright lights often leads to the eradication of a large part of the swarm. If they don’t make it to moist soil or dampened wood they die within a very short time.
The insects are harmless enough, but very annoying because a chink of light shining through a tiny gap between two closed doors is enough to attract them and let them squeeze through in their scores. If your doors and windows are sealed tight you’ll find a mass of them lying dead outside in the morning.
The insects do have their use in ‘waste not want not’ Thailand, especially in rural areas. Villagers sweep up the clot of the dead, dying and damned termites and feed them to chickens and fish. Birds and geckos feast on them too.
The only good thing I can say about Thailand’s mang mao insects is they only take flight around the wet months of May and June. Any longer than that and Thailand’s kamikaze termites would be intolerable. What’s your experience of Thailand’s wide-winged mang mao insects?
a few years a go i was home in petchabun thailand. it was night time, and i was trying to use my laptop in the main room. them bugs where flying all around my screen, in my face, on my keyboard. i had the bright idea to turn on the light in the bathroom and leave the door open a few inches, thinking that would distract them away. it worked great. but a few hours later, i looked in the bathroom and there were thousands of bodies and wings covering everything! the tank of water for showers was covered with wings. my wife and mother-in-law would have some choice words for me over that, so i had to get a broom and dustbin and sweep and skim as much of the debris away as i could before i could go to be.
sometimes i’ll go coax the big toad out from under the waterfall and nudge him to the porch, where he’ll hop around and snatch up all the critters that fall to the floor. i love to watch the gekkos come out and feast. the the thousands of little ants come out and drag away all the remaining bodies and wings and in the morning, the porch is clean of them.
but i never knew what they were called till i read this post. is the “mao” in the name the same meaning as “drunken”?
Karl – Thanks for your story. It must have been quite a sight in the bathroom.
As far as I’m aware ‘mao’ in this case means drunk, but I wouldn’t put money on it even though the insects do seem gung ho drunk.
Really good to see you up and running!
แมลงเม่า mælng mèā an interesting post, the bane of my life during the rains. A quiet fag and a pint on the terrace suddenly becomes a hail storm of flying insects!!
I thought I would dig into the language a bit since the Thai word for Termite is ปลวก bplwk, while แมลงเม่า translates to May Fly. As far as I know these are two different beasts!!
Apparently they are ปลวก in the ground and แมลงเม่า when they fly. I fancy the
แมลงเม่า name is used for several different flying insects.
Thai Karl เมา = drunk…. notice the tone mark in แมลงเม่า so not a drunken insect 😉
In my dictionary เม่า = a species of insect
Now I will wait for Catherine to turn up and correct me 😉
Mike – Mang mao are a tricky subject as there doesn’t appear to be a great deal on the internet about them. The best I can offer is the link below which explains (kind of) the Termite Life Cycle which involves both ground termites and winged insects, both from the same caste system. Good luck understanding it.
Mike – Here’s an interesting article which kind of backs up my post, well… as far as I can make out because it’s in Thai. I used Google Translate to read it but it might give you a bit of Thai reading practice.
Cheers mate, that should take me a week to read at my current levels 😉
Mike – Only a week?.. you must be pretty good.
I don’t care what they are called !!!!!! I HATE THEM.after it rains here in Wang Pho reminds me of the old war movies , black out time . lights out , and they go to the neighbors house. And if anyone wants to eat them come over to our place after a rain and they can have my share , lol.
Good post Martyn, Ciejay said her Dad use to catch them in a hand held net and stir fry them in a hot pan , pick up a hand full , blow real hard to blow off the wings and then dig it —yuk for my part .
Malcolm – I remember the post you did about mang mao, I checked it out again before I wrote this one and my information tied in with yours.
Wilai said some Thais do eat mang mao, but most leave them alone.
Nice to hear from you and best wishes to Ciejay.
I don’t have that problem anymore because I live in the heart of Bangkok where there’s probably not enough fields for them. But I do remember having them invading my house when I used to live in a small mu baan outside of central Bangkok.
I’m just glad you said they feed them to chickens, and not to themselves. Eughhhhh
I once ate a grasshopper, it was ok, but I have no desire to eat another!
Ryan – Some Thai do eat them. I ate a fried insect myself years ago, I’m not sure what type it was but I swear I could still taste it three days later. I’ve not eaten one since and don’t think I will again.