Gonimbrasia belina is a species of Emperor Moth (Saturniidae) which is native to the warmer parts of the southern African savannah. Its large caterpillar, known as the Mopane Worm, feeds primarily on Mopane tree leaves, hence the English name, although the worm has over 15 known local names in the region.
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, growing considerably through 5 moult stages. It then burrows underground to pupate, 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, after which it emerges at the start of summer in November. The large adult moths, with their distinctive eyespots on the hindwings, live only for three to four days, during which time they mate and lay their eggs. Eggs are laid in clumps, and after hatching small caterpillars tend to aggregate together, but they become solitary as they grow and age.
Mopane Worms can be bought at most rural markets in the region. Dried worms can be eaten raw as a crisp snack or can be soaked to rehydrate, before being fried until they are crunchy, or even cooked with onions, tomatoes and spices and then served as a stew with maize meal. The harvesting and sale of Mopane Worms is actually a multi-million dollar industry in southern Africa, with an estimated 2 million kilograms of worms traded annually! They are even found in some high-end restaurants as an expensive delicacy!
Go on, be brave and try these interesting snacks next time you visit Africa. And if you don’t want to try that, it is still fascinating sitting next to a Mopane tree and watching hundreds of Mopane Worms eating the leaves – you can actually hear them crunching away!
Join one of our South Africa Safaris and Tours to experience this wonderful safari destination with us.