Julie Lesnik

Julie Lesnik

Assistant Professor Anthropology
Phone: 313-577-2935

Areas of expertise

insects as food
evolution of human diet


My primary interest is in the evolution of the human diet, specifically in regards to entomophagy, or eating insects. My work includes an assessment of the nutritional role that termites would have fulfilled in the diet of South African robust australopithecines and identification of which taxa of termites would be the most likely candidates for consumption. Previous reconstructions of hominin paleodiet do not account for the varying diets of different termite taxa and how that affects their nutritional contribution or their stable isotope signatures. My conclusions suggest that we should use the woodland termite genus Macrotermes in our models, the same termites preferred by chimpanzees, instead of the termites found near hominin sites today on the South African savanna. Additionally, I have argued how patterns of insect foraging contribute to the debate over the origins of the sexual division of labor. When people consume insects, women tend to forage for and consume more of this resource than men. Based on the nutritional needs of women, especially during pregnancy and lactation, insects appear to be a reliable source of critical nutrients, especially protein. Similar patterns are seen for nonhuman primates. The results of this research not only have implications for modeling this behavior in our hominin ancestors but also informs on the value of insects as a source of protein that could be sustainably cultivated today. My current projects include an upcoming book, Entomophagy and Evolution: Eating Insects Past, Present, and Future, as well as continued work in south and east Africa reconstructing the role of insects in the hominin diet.

Research Interests: 
Evolution of the human diet
Insects as food
Hominin ecology