What exactly killed a West Palm Beach man, who collapsed and died Friday night after eating roaches and worms in a contest to win a snake, is still under review by the Broward Medical Examiner's Office.
But his death is a rarity in a world where millions consume insects as a diet staple. They are cooked into rice, sun dried and sold in marketplaces, canned by the ton or munched like popcorn in movie houses.
About 80 percent of the world's population routinely dines on insects, said Marianne Shockley Cruz, an entomology professor at the University of Georgia.
"The U.S. and Canada and a lot of the Western Europeans are really the only people in the world right now that do not consume insects on a daily basis," she said. "We are way behind the times."
In Africa, caterpillars are processed by the ton and shipped around the continent. Africans also trap termites attracted to candlelight, break off wings and fry them as a delicacy. Queens are a special treat reserved for children or grandparents.
For centuries, eggs of water-bearing bugs have been farmed to provide "Mexican caviar," or ahuahutle. In Colombia, roasted ant bellies are eaten in theaters instead of popcorn. They're called "hormigas culonas."
Asians also love insects. Japanese cook rice flavored with wasps, complete with wings — a favorite of Emperor Hirohito. Candied grasshoppers, called "inago," are served as cocktail snacks.
"In Japan they revere insects and they welcome them into their homes," Cruz said. "Americans are the only ones that have that squeamish reaction when they see that spider or insect."
Americans and their European forebears didn't need insects because wild game abounded in their lands.
But bugs can be found on U.S. menus. The Tu Y Yo Mexican restaurant in Needham, Mass., offers tacos stuffed with grasshoppers (when available) for $13.50. At the Sticky Rice Restaurant in Chicago, you can order Khai Jiaw Khai Mod, or Thai omelet, with ant eggs for $6.50.
Americans feast on bugs for contests, or on dares. Last year, people trying to win amusement park passes gobbled cockroaches at Six Flags in Illinois. The same year people ate roaches at the Exploreum Science Center in Mobile, Ala. Reality shows such as "Fear Factor" or "Jackass" have contributed to the increase in bug consumption among otherwise queasy Americans.
It was after a bug-eating contest that Edward Archbold, 32, retched violently and collapsed outside the Ben Siegel Reptile Store in Deerfield Beach. He had consumed an unknown number of insects and worms, and later died at Broward Health North.
Archbold, a canvas crafter, was competing to win an expensive python for a friend. No other competitors fell ill, and Siegel said his store has safely held such contests in the past.
"I've never heard of that happening," Florence Vaccarello Dunkel, associate professor of entomology at Montana State University, said of Archbold's death.
Internet theories abound on what killed Archbold: he choked on his own vomit, he suffered an allergic reaction, he inhaled the roaches' hard, dry shells.
Dunkel, editor of the Food Insect Newsletter, said allergy may have played a role. If Archbold was allergic to arthropods such as shrimp or crabs, he would also likely be allergic to insects.
Siegel said the bugs used in the contest were domestically raised as reptile food, which is good, said Dunkel. But they were served live, which experts strictly warn against.
"There's bacteria on those things," said Richard Levine, spokesman for the Entomological Society of America.
"I would never, ever advise anyone to eat them alive," Dunkel said, citing the spines on a roach's legs. "It's like swallowing a fishhook."
In Florida, insects are sold as food for pets, or for pest control. But there's little or no other regulation.
"The only regulatory authority we have over insects is we regulate pest control companies," said Sterling Ivey, spokesman for the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. "In terms of insects that are naturally found in the state of Florida, like roaches, I don't think there's any state agency that has specific authority over them."
Another state agency, the Department of Business and Professional Regulation, regulates restaurants but not pet stores, since they don't typically provide food for human consumption.
A spokeswoman for the Broward County Health Department said it has no jurisdiction over events such as the one at the reptile store.
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.
Staff writer John Tanasychuk and staff researcher Barbara Hijek contributed to this report.