Imbrasia belina
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''Gonimbrasia belina'' is a species of emperor moth which is native to the warmer parts of
southern Africa Southern Africa is the south South is one of the cardinal directions or compass points. South is the opposite of north and is perpendicular to the east and west. Etymology The word ''south'' comes from Old English ''sūþ'', from earlier Pr ...
. Its large
edible A Number of the Best Edible Fungi, illustration from ''The Encyclopedia of Food'' by Artemas Ward, 1923 An edible item is any item that is safe for humans to eat. "Edible" is differentiated from "eatable" because it does not indicate how an item ...
caterpillar Caterpillars ( ) are the larva, larval stage of members of the order Lepidoptera (the insect order comprising butterfly, butterflies and moths). As with most common names, the application of the word is arbitrary, since the larvae of sawfly ...

caterpillar
, known as the madora or
mopane worm ''Gonimbrasia belina'' is a species of Saturniinae, emperor moth which is native to the warmer parts of southern Africa. Its large Entomophagy, edible caterpillar, known as the madora or mopane worm or amacimbi, masontja, feeds primarily but not e ...

mopane worm
or amacimbi, masontja, feeds primarily but not exclusively on mopane tree leaves. Mopane worms are an important source of
protein Proteins are large s and s that comprise one or more long chains of . Proteins perform a vast array of functions within organisms, including , , , providing and , and from one location to another. Proteins differ from one another primarily ...

protein
for many in the region. The species was first described by
John O. Westwood
John O. Westwood
in 1849.


Vernacular names

The mopane worm is so-called in English because it is usually found on the
mopane ''Colophospermum mopane'', commonly called mopane, mopani, balsam tree, butterfly tree, or turpentine tree, is a tree in the legume A legume () is a plant in the family Fabaceae (or Leguminosae), or the fruit or seed of such a plant. When use ...
tree, ''Colophospermum mopane''. Other vernacular names for the caterpillars include: *
Botswana Botswana (, also ), officially the Republic of Botswana ( tn, Lefatshe la Botswana, label=Setswana The Tswana language () is a Bantu language spoken in Southern Africa by about 8,2 million people. It is a Bantu languages, Bantu langua ...

Botswana
** Kalanga: ''mahonja'' ** tn, phane *
South Africa South Africa, officially the Republic of South Africa (RSA), is the southernmost country in Africa. With over 60 million people, it is the world's 23rd-most populous nation and covers an area of . South Africa has three capital cities ...

South Africa
** nso, mašotša (colloq)On the trail of missing Mopane Worms
Retrieved 28 March 2006
** ve, mashonzha ** ts, matamani or ** nr, iinnondo *
Zambia Zambia (), officially the Republic of Zambia (Bemba language, Bemba:'' Icalo ca Zambia''; Tonga language (Zambia and Zimbabwe), Tonga: ''Cisi ca Zambia''; Lozi language, Lozi: ''Naha ya Zambia''; Chewa language, Nyanja: ''Dziko la Zambia''), ...

Zambia
** ''muyaya'' (believed to be the mopane worm)Silow, C.A. 1976. Edible and Other Insects of Mid-western Zambia. Studies in Ethno-entomology II. Occ. Pap. V. Inst.Allm. Jamforand. Etnogr., Uppsala, Sweden: Almqvist & Wiksell, pp. 64–69. (Quoted ch.17 DeFoliart 2003) **''finkubala'' **''ifishimu'' (proper name in the Bemba language) *
Zimbabwe Zimbabwe (), officially the Republic of Zimbabwe, is a landlocked country A landlocked country is a country A country is a distinct territory, territorial body or political entity. It is often referred to as the land of an individ ...

Zimbabwe
** nd, macimbi ** sn, madora, or ''mashonja'' ** Kalanga: ''mahonja'' *
Namibia Namibia (, ), officially the Republic of Namibia, is a country in Southern Africa Southern Africa is the south South is one of the cardinal directions or compass points. South is the opposite of north and is perpendicular to the east a ...

Namibia
** Ovambo: ''omagungu'' **
Oshikwanyama Kwanyama or Cuanhama is a national language of Angola and Namibia. It is a standardized dialect of the Ovambo language, and is mutual intelligibility, mutually intelligible with Oshindonga, the other Ovambo dialect with a standard written form. The ...
:oshuungu *
Democratic Republic of the Congo The Democratic Republic of the Congo ( french: République démocratique du Congo (RDC) ), also known as Congo-Kinshasa, DR Congo, the DRC, the DROC, or the Congo, and formerly Zaire Zaire (), officially the Republic of Zaire (french: ...

Democratic Republic of the Congo
** kg, mingolo The Latin name is sometimes given as ''Imbrasia belina'', rather than ''Gonimbrasia belina''.The Mopane Worm
Retrieved 28 March 2006.


Identification

The moths are large with a wingspan of 120 mm. Wings are fawn coloured through shades of green and brown to red, with two black and white bands isolating the eyespots. An orange eyespot is present on each
hindwing Insect wings are adult outgrowths of the insect exoskeleton that enable insects to flight, fly. They are found on the second and third Thorax (insect anatomy), thoracic segments (the mesothorax and metathorax), and the two pairs are often referred ...

hindwing
. Males moths have feathery antennae, which are used to find a mate.
Larva A larva (plural larvae ) is a distinct juvenile form many animals undergo before metamorphosis into adults. Animals with indirect developmental biology, development such as insects, amphibians, or cnidarians typically have a larval phase of the ...
e are black, peppered with round scales in indistinct alternating whitish green and yellow bands, and armed with short black or reddish spines covered in fine white hairs.


Biology

Larvae eat a wide range of plants including mopane, ''Carissa grandiflora'', ''Diospyros'', ''Ficus'', ''Rhus'', ''Sclerocarya caffra'', ''Terminalia'' and ''Trema''. Mopane worm outbreaks defoliate shrubs, depriving game of browse.


Habitat

Widespread. Very common in semi-desert, bushveld and grassland.


Life cycle

Like most caterpillars, the mopane worm's life cycle starts when it hatches in the summer, after which it proceeds to eat the foliage in its immediate vicinity. As the
larva A larva (plural larvae ) is a distinct juvenile form many animals undergo before metamorphosis into adults. Animals with indirect developmental biology, development such as insects, amphibians, or cnidarians typically have a larval phase of the ...
grows, it moults four times in its five larval stages, after which the mopane worm is considered most desirable for harvesting. Provided that the larva has not been harvested after its fourth moult, it burrows underground to
pupa '' A pupa ( la, pupa, "doll"; plural: ''pupae'') is the life stage of some insect Insects (from Latin ') are pancrustacean Hexapoda, hexapod invertebrates of the class (biology), class Insecta. They are the largest group within the arthropo ...

pupa
te, the stage at which it undergoes complete transformation to become the adult moth. This stage happens over winter, for a duration of 6 to 7 months, whereafter it emerges at the beginning of summer (November or December). The adult moths live only for three to four days, during which time they mate and lay their eggs.


Predators

Like many animals lower down on the food chain, the mopane worms and their eggs often fall prey to various predators as well as disease. Often, more than 40% of a mopane worm's eggs will be attacked by various parasites, and the caterpillars themselves are susceptible to infection from a virus that has a high mortality rate. The worms' main predators are various birds and humans, which rely on the caterpillars for sustenance.


Diet

Although the mopane worm feeds chiefly on the
mopane ''Colophospermum mopane'', commonly called mopane, mopani, balsam tree, butterfly tree, or turpentine tree, is a tree in the legume A legume () is a plant in the family Fabaceae (or Leguminosae), or the fruit or seed of such a plant. When use ...
tree, it is not limited to this diet, and can feed on many other trees that are indigenous to the same regions, including the leaves of the
mango A mango is an edible stone fruit ), showing both fruit and seed Image:Nectarine Fruit Development.jpg, 300px, The development sequence of a typical drupe, a smooth-skinned (Peach#Nectarines, nectarine) type of peach (''Prunus persica'') over ...

mango
tree. Thus the mopane worm is scattered over a fairly large area. As the larval stage of the mopane worm is fairly short, in contrast to other browsing caterpillars, the extensive damage to foliage is easily survived by the tree, in time to be replenished for the next generation of mopane worms. Like most caterpillars, the mopane worm is a voracious eater, and will continue to eat - almost non-stop - until it reaches the next stage of its life cycle, when it burrows underground to undergo metamorphosis.


As food

Mopane worms are hand picked in the wild, often by women and children. In the bush, the caterpillars are not considered to belong to the landowner (if any), but around a house, permission should be sought from the resident. Chavanduka describes women in
Zimbabwe Zimbabwe (), officially the Republic of Zimbabwe, is a landlocked country A landlocked country is a country A country is a distinct territory, territorial body or political entity. It is often referred to as the land of an individ ...

Zimbabwe
tying a piece of bark to particular trees to establish ownership, or moving the young caterpillars to trees nearer home. When the caterpillar has been picked, it is pinched at the tail end to rupture the innards. The picker then squeezes it like a tube of toothpaste or lengthwise like a concertina, and whips it to expel the slimy, green contents of the gut.


Preserving

The traditional method of preserving mopane worms is to boil them without adding any extra water after washing and adding a significant amount of salt. They are then dried in the sun or smoked, whereby they gain extra flavour. The industrial method is to can the caterpillars (usually in brine). Tins of mopane worms can be found in rural supermarkets and markets around southern Africa.


Eating

Dried mopane worms can be eaten raw as a crisp snack; however, in
Botswana Botswana (, also ), officially the Republic of Botswana ( tn, Lefatshe la Botswana, label=Setswana The Tswana language () is a Bantu language spoken in Southern Africa by about 8,2 million people. It is a Bantu languages, Bantu langua ...

Botswana
people tend not to eat the head. Alternatively, mopane worms can be soaked to rehydrate, before being fried until they are crunchy, or cooked with
onion The onion (''Allium cepa'' L., from Latin ''cepa'' "onion"), also known as the bulb onion or common onion, is a vegetable Vegetables are parts of plants that are consumed by humans or other animals as food. The original meaning is still com ...

onion
,
tomatoes The tomato is the edible berry A berry is a small, pulpy, and often edible fruit In botany, a fruit is the seed-bearing structure in flowering plants (also known as angiosperms) formed from the ovary after flowering. Fruits are ...

tomatoes
and
spices A spice is a seed A seed is an embryonic ''Embryonic'' is the twelfth studio album by experimental rock band the Flaming Lips released on October 13, 2009, on Warner Bros. Records, Warner Bros. The band's first double album, it was release ...

spices
and then served with pap or sadza. The flesh is yellow, and the gut may still contain fragments of dried leaf, which is not harmful to humans. The taste of dried leaves, if not removed, is somewhat reminiscent of tea leaves. Dried mopane worms are frequently canned/packaged in tomato sauce or chili sauce to enhance the flavour. In November 2015, a Cornell team of food scientists placed third in Brisbane, Australia, at the 2015 Global Business Challenge, by presenting the economic and nutritional benefits of transforming proteins from mopane worms into food.


Farming and economics

The harvesting and sale of mopane worms is a multi-million rand (currency), rand industry in southern Africa. The principal producers are
Botswana Botswana (, also ), officially the Republic of Botswana ( tn, Lefatshe la Botswana, label=Setswana The Tswana language () is a Bantu language spoken in Southern Africa by about 8,2 million people. It is a Bantu languages, Bantu langua ...

Botswana
,
Namibia Namibia (, ), officially the Republic of Namibia, is a country in Southern Africa Southern Africa is the south South is one of the cardinal directions or compass points. South is the opposite of north and is perpendicular to the east a ...

Namibia
,
South Africa South Africa, officially the Republic of South Africa (RSA), is the southernmost country in Africa. With over 60 million people, it is the world's 23rd-most populous nation and covers an area of . South Africa has three capital cities ...

South Africa
(Limpopo Province and Mpumalanga) and
Zimbabwe Zimbabwe (), officially the Republic of Zimbabwe, is a landlocked country A landlocked country is a country A country is a distinct territory, territorial body or political entity. It is often referred to as the land of an individ ...

Zimbabwe
. Typically, the caterpillars are not bred, but picked wherever they occur naturally. It is one of the region's most economically important insects. In the 1990s, hundreds of tons were exported from Botswana and South Africa each year. It is estimated that South Africa alone trades 1.6 million kilogrammes of mopane worm annually,Worming your way to a sustainable harvest
''Spore Brief Iss. 108''
and that Botswana's involvement in this industry nets it roughly $8 million annually.Effects of Elevated Ultraviolet-B Radiation on Native and Cultivated Plants of Southern Africa
/ref> Mopane worms are considered to be a profitable harvest, as a mere three kilograms of feed (mopane leaves) will generally yield one kilogram of mopane worms: in contrast, cattle farming requires ten kilograms of feed to generate one kilogram of beef; thus the worms are a low-cost, low-maintenance, high-protein food source.


Harvesting

Traditionally, mopane worms were harvested for subsistence farming, subsistence. Because of the seasonal nature of the occurrence of these edible caterpillars, they are not a year-round food source. However, traditional mopane worm harvesting is evolving to be more commercially driven. Since the 1950s, commercial farming methods have been applied to the mopane worm harvests, particularly in South Africa. Collectors may organise teams of hundreds of people to hand pick the caterpillars from the trees, after which they are bagged ''en masse'', weighed, and sent off to be processed. Owners of land where mopane worms are found may charge harvesters large fees to enter. Whereas this relationship profits both the commercial harvester and the farmer, it is often to the detriment of the local community for whom the caterpillars may previously have been an important source of food and seasonal income.


Sustainability

As mopane worms represent an important sector in the local rural economy, they attract large numbers of people who seek to cash in on the profits from selling the insects as food. This circumstance leads to overharvesting, and fewer mopane worms the following year. In some areas, farmers and communities have taken steps to reach a balance, so that each year may yield maximum returns without compromising the following year's harvest.


Fears of competition

A sure sign of the presence of mopane worms is defoliation of mopane woodland - sometimes around ninety per cent of leaves. Fenced-in browsing animals may rely on the mopane, and on other trees favoured by the caterpillars, as an important part of their diet. Some farmers therefore view the mopane worm as competition for their livestock, and attempt to eradicate the "pest" with insecticides and the like. However, the caterpillar season is short, and the trees sprout the new, tender foliage which browsers prefer, so this problem can be managed in other ways, for example, by working to mutual benefit with the local caterpillar harvesters who will control the worms by harvesting them.


Recolonisation

Some areas once rich in mopane worms are now barren due to over harvesting and lack of a proper sustainable approach to commercial mopane worm farming. A good case is in Nkayi, Zimbabwe, Nkayi District, Zimbabwe, where most mopane woodland areas once produced a high population of these worms; but the harvests have decreased drastically. Suggestions of how to reintroduce the worms to these areas include re-colonisation. As the adult moth lives only three to four days, during which it must mate and lay eggs, there is only a small window of opportunity to relocate them. If this stage was to be successfully completed, collaboration with local farmers and communities would be required to ensure that the caterpillars are not harvested for a set number of years. It would thus be ensured that the area is adequately repopulated, so that a sustainable harvest is created for the future.


Domestication

Those in the business have considered domesticating the mopane worms in a manner that is similar to the domestication of silkworms. The industry would thus be less susceptible to the pitfalls that are associated with it, such as climate change, drought and other factors that could compromise a harvest. For a domesticated industry to succeed on a small scale and be accessible to the poorest of the poor, the cost of production would have to be comparable with the cost of wild worms or dried worms at the market.


Processing

A Mopani Processing centre has been built in Dzumeri, some 34 kilometres from Giyani. The centre was funded by the Council of Scientific and industrial Research (CSIR). In full operation, the Centre should be able to produce large quantities of a variety of mopani snacks and mopani polony.


References


Further reading


Food Insects
Site includes ''The Food Insects Newsletter'' * DeFoliart, Gene. ''The Human Use of Insects as a Food Resource: A Bibliographic Account in Progress''. * Hannaway, Francis. (2017






External links



Photographs of a mopane worm outbreak {{Authority control Saturniinae Moths of Africa Moths described in 1849 Edible insects Botswana cuisine Namibian cuisine South African cuisine Zimbabwean cuisine Insects in culture