MIAMI — As a Florida medical examiner tries to determine how 32-year-old Edward Archbold died after eating insects during a contest to win a snake, people across the country are asking: Why?
Why would anyone eat a live cockroach? Why did he die when several others in the contest ate the same bugs without incident? What inspired Mr. Archbold — who was described by the snake store owner as "the life of the party" — to shovel handfuls of crickets, worms and cockroaches into his mouth?
While eating bugs is normal in many parts of the world, the practice is taboo in the U.S. and many Western countries.
Yet people do it for the shock factor, and many do so during contests or dares; just last year, contestants ate Madagascar cockroaches at a Six Flags in Illinois for a chance to win amusement park passes. Also last year, people ate live roaches at the Exploreum Science Center in Mobile, Ala. And a few years back at Universal Studios in Orlando, contestants in a theme park show purportedly consumed a mix of sour milk, mystery meat and bugs.
Experts point to the rise in reality TV shows and movies such as "Fear Factor" and "Jackass" as egging people on and breaking down the ick factor.
Lou Manza, a psychology professor at Lebanon Valley College, said folks who participate in extreme events like bug eating "are looking for things to make life interesting."
"At a certain level we're all looking for things to break up the monotony," said Mr. Manza, who participates in extreme marathons and says some people think that is odd. "We're striving for something that gives life meaning, something beyond the ordinary. The older you get, you start looking for something else."
Mr. Manza added that amateurs don't "think things through" when throwing themselves into weird and possibly dangerous competitions.
Case in point: In 2007, a 28-year-old mother of three died after participating in a California radio station contest called "Hold Your Wee for a Wii." She tried to drink large quantities of water without urinating in order to win a gaming console. Overconsumption of water throws the body's electrolyte balance out of whack and can be fatal.
What made Mr. Archbold participate in the bug-eating contest is a bit unclear; he had eaten bugs before, said his girlfriend. He had planned on giving the female python to a friend if he won.
Natasha Proffitt, 27, of West Palm Beach, said Mr. Archbold told her about the contest just hours before it started Friday. When she asked him whether it was a good idea, he said "it was not a big deal."
The store, Ben Siegel Reptiles in Deerfield Beach, had been touting the contest for days on its popular Facebook page. Mr. Archbold, of West Palm Beach, collapsed in front of the store, according to a Broward County sheriff's office statement released Monday.
He was taken to the hospital where he was pronounced dead. Authorities were awaiting autopsy results to determine a cause of death.
The medical examiner's office said Tuesday it had sent samples of Mr. Archbold's remains for testing, but results are not expected for another week or two.
Coby Schal, a professor of entomology at North Carolina State University, said this was likely an allergic response, "but there is always a possibility that cockroaches do carry bacteria but the response won't be immediate. It would take time for bacteria to be a problem."
He speculated that there could be other complications.
"When cockroaches like this die or are sick, they can have bacterial infections," Mr. Schal said. "But the fact that he was the only one affected, it suggests that it's something about his physiology."
Mike Tringale, the vice president of the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, said it's possible that Mr. Archbold "hit his tolerance level to cockroach allergens" and went into anaphylactic shock.
He said that such a severe reaction to cockroaches is "probably rare," however.