Find, identify & discuss the insects of SANParks

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Unread post by ritad »

Created by Jenny Bell

Mopane Worms as a Protein supplement: Is it sustainable?
These brightly coloured worms that we see in the summer months on various host plants, but specifically the Mopane Tree (Colophospermum mopane) are the larval form of the Gonimbrasia belina moth. Probably the most import insect in Southern Africa from a cultural point of view as it is a popular source of protein for many rural families, with the harvesting of the worms being a way many people (harvesters & traders) make a living. The Mopane tree’s leaves contain a very high percentage of protein (12-15%) which the worms eat and assimilate into their own body making them a rich protein supplement for rural people.
So where does the Mopane worm come from? As mentioned, the Mopane worm is actually the larval stage of the G. Belina moth. The large moth lays its eggs on plants, with the Mopane tree being the preferred host plant, hence its name. Small worms hatch from the white eggs and after several moults reach maturity, the stage most desirable for harvesting. The worms that are not harvested will move down from the trees and pupate underground, later emerging as a new moth. The lifecycle continues with the moths mating & the female laying eggs – a complete or Holometabolic life cycle. If too many worms are harvested, not enough worms remain to pupate & emerge as adult moths to continue the lifecycle of the insect; over-harvesting can therefore not sustain a viable annual harvest.
In order to sustain the harvesting of Mopane worms in rural areas many myths need to be dispelled. For example, it is believed that when the worms leave the trees to burrow into the ground they are going to die, when in fact they are merely moving underground to pupate & complete their life cycle. It is also believed that if the ashes from the fire used to dry the worms are spread during a ritual that the worms will return to an area. The traditional way to dry them is in the sun or to smoke them over an open fire for additional flavour.
Unfortunately, many rural areas have been overharvested, so poor families have to travel great distances to harvest the worms, losing profits in the process. Re-introduction to an area is possible but in order for this to be sustainable it would require the co-operation and support of the local community – no harvesting until there is a sustainable population! Domestication is an option but would probably become too expensive and not benefit the poorest of the poor, the very people that need the worms to make a living.
Did you know the Mopane worm appears on the 5 Pula coin of Botswana?
Phane (Tswana) Amacimbi (Indebele) Masonja (Venda) Madora (Shona)
1790765E-809C-41C9-9CF9-35037689EB39.jpeg (32.44 KiB) Viewed 3677 times
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Ouma Biskuit
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Re: #DidYouKnow

Unread post by Ouma Biskuit »

Thank you for a very interesting read. :o
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