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Erucivory or Feeding on Caterpillars

The Crawling Snacks

The Snack that Crawls    It’s light, crunchy and nutritious: so what if one of Africa’s favorite finger foods happens to be a caterpillar?” by Heather Brandon in the March-April, 1987, issue of the International Wildlife magazine.

  • Meet one of Africa’s favorite snacks: the four-inch-long larva of the emperor moth, known among admirers as the mopane worm.
  • For as long as anyone can remember, rural Africans in the southern part of the continent have harvested the huge caterpillar and eaten it fried, dried, stewed, or raw.
  • Hatching in early spring from eggs laid by enormous emperor moths, the caterpillars grow big and fat within six weeks.
  • Mopane worms are hatched on the widely scattered, scrubby mopane trees that dominate the bushveld from Mozambique and Zimbabwe to Namibia and South Africa.
  • A firm in Johannesburg has been marketing the insects throughout South Africa and Botswana after drying them in large sheds and wrapping them in polyurethane bags.
  • By the way, before a mopane worm can be eaten, its strong-smelling intestines must be forced (squeezed) out by hand. The remainder is “full of nutrients—far more than such Western fast foods as French fries.”
  • A swarming delicacy, the “mopane worm” is the larva of the emperor moth, found in huge numbers throughout southern Africa’s savanna.
  • Once the exclusive pleasure of rural people, the “tasty” caterpillar is now marketed to urbanites who enjoy it dried or canned in tomato sauce.
  • Prepackaged caterpillars turned a profit in the first year for “Albert’s Mopanie Worms”; a company in Botswana that began drying the insects in sheds and selling them in 1983.
  • Worms go better with Coke, according to some mopane fans. A bag of 60 dried caterpillars was retailsing for about 60 cents (U.S. equivalent).
  • Increasingly, Africans are munching the erucivorous snack food straight from the package.

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