Caterpillars are eaten throughout much of the world, particularly in Africa. While many species are consumed there, few approach the ubiquity of the Mopane [or Mopani] worm (the larvae of Gonimbrasia belina, a Saturnid moth). It’s harvested in South Africa, Botswana, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Malawi, Democratic Republic of Congo, Central African Republic, Tanzania, Kenya, Ghana, Nigeria, and probably other countries. The insect’s name comes from its diet: its preferred food source is the mopane tree, (Colophospermum mopane). Like many other Saturnid caterpillars and moths, they are relatively flamboyently-colored larvae. And as is used for the “silkworm,” people have found it more convenient to adopt the word ‘worm’ rather than ‘caterpillar.’
Mopane trees don’t tend to grow very high, and harvesting the worm is simple. After the guts are squeezed out, the empty tube is briefly boiled in salt water, and then the worms are spread out to dry. After that, they will keep practically indefinitely.
I have been most interested in obtaining dried or possibly canned mopane worms; to that end I’ve sent several hundred emails, to no avail. I’ve learned that considerable amounts of Mopane are exported to France and Belgium (from which country[ies] I have not been able to determine) but there is no exportation to the U.S., and this should change.
A [very small] sample of mopane received from Zimbabwe. The caterpillars are completely dry, and quite crunchy/hard. They are often eaten in this fashion, or re-hydrated and made into a stew.
My own mopane meal, taken from a recipe I found either online or in Menzel & D’Alusio’s book.
The Tour Idea: In the summer of 2005 I opened conversation with a safari company located in the U.S. concerning a tour to South Africa, Zimbabwe, and Namibia. This tour would include several activities involving both entomology and entomophagy, including night-lighting and visits to both a mopane harvest and to the Kalahari Bushmen, who use the fluids from a very small beetle larva to poison arrow-tips for hunting. There would of course be other places and subjects, including Victoria Falls and several opportunities to see charismatic megafauna.
The tour is tentatively planned for January 2007, but September 2006 might also be a possibility. Anyone interested in such an experience should absolutely get in touch with me.