Mopane worms in Botswana

Mopane Worm Problems Effect The Poorest – Southern African Traditional Foods

Mopane worms are critical to nutrition and income generation for most households in those rural areas in Africa where the mopane tree grows. However, climate change and over harvesting of the worms as one of the few income generating opportunities in rural areas are threatening the species’ survival. Mopane worms are the caterpillar stage of the Emperor Moth, Gonimbrasia belina, which feed almost exclusively on the mopane tree Colophospermum mopane.

Gonimbrasia belina – Wikipedia

Although the mopane worm feeds chiefly on the mopane tree, it is not limited to this diet, and can feed on many other trees indigenous to the same regions, including the leaves of the mango tree. This allows the mopane worm to be scattered over a fairly large area, as it is not restricted to areas with mopane trees. 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.

Mopane woodlands and the mopane worm

Imbrasia belina (Westwood), the mopane worm or Anomalous Emperor Moth, is a saturniid lepidopteran which is widely distributed throughout southern, central and east Africa. Its distribution in southern Africa follows that of its primary host plant, the mopane tree (Colophospernum mopane), which occurs in a broad band extending from the Northern parts of South Africa into Zimbabwe and Botswana, and west into Namibia. I. belina feeds on a number of tree species but C. mopane is the most suitable host in terms of developmental periods, number of emerged adults and nutritional quality.

Travel Tip/Food Tip – Have you had your Mopane Worms

The mopane worm is the brightly coloured caterpillar of the Emperor Moth, which is one of the world’s largest moths. The caterpillar lives primarily on the leaves of the mopane tree (Colophospermum mopane) – hence its name. These ‘worms’ can be all over a tree as seen in the imagebelow.  Thank goodness Mopane worms are an excellent source of protein and are even considered a delicacy in Botswana.  It forms the basis of a multi-million rand trade in edible insects, providing a livelihood for many harvesters, traders and their families. However, the industry is not without problems. Droughts devastate the harvest on a regular basis and there are areas where overexploitation has led to local extinctions.

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