Mopane worm on mopane tree.jpg

Mopane worms (Macimbi in Ndebele, and Madora in Shona) are the larval stage of the Emperor Moth, which are mostly found in southern Africa. They are a staple food source for many people in the region, and are often collected from the wild. In some cases they are also raised on farms.

They are high in protein and are typically fried or dried before being consumed. The worms are considered a staple in rural areas and a delicacy in cities. The name comes from the fact that they are found in mopane trees.

In Zimbabwe, they are harvested in the Matabeleland region and are found in large numbers after the rains.

Mopane worms are found in several countries in southern Africa, including but not limited to: Zimbabwe, Zambia, Botswana and northern Namibia.[1] It is important to note that it's not only limited to southern Africa, it also found in some parts of central Africa too.

Harvesting

Mopane worms are typically harvested from the wild. Wild mopane worms are collected by hand, often by women and children, who search for the worms on the leaves of the mopane tree (Colophospermum mopane). The worms are usually collected during the rainy season, when they are most abundant.

The traditional method of harvesting mopane worms is by handpicking them from the trees at night when they are active, using a torch light to find them. The worms can also be collected by shaking the branches of the trees, causing the worms to fall to the ground, where they can be easily collected.

Farm-raised mopane worms are collected by placing branches of the mopane tree in a container, where the worms will lay their eggs. The eggs hatch into larvae, which can then be harvested and sold.

Once collected, the worms are often cleaned by squeezing them to empty their guts, washed and then parboiled in water. They are then dried for preservation. Sometimes they are also consumed fresh.

To dry mopane worms, they are spread out in the sun or on a rack and left to dry until they become hard. Once dried, they can be stored for later use or ground into a powder and used as a seasoning or protein supplement.

Mopane Worms Preparation

Mopane worms are typically prepared for consumption by frying them. To fry mopane worms, they are heated in oil until they turn a golden brown color and become crispy. They are then seasoned with salt and other spices before being served.

Mopane worms can be eaten on its own or added to dishes such as stews, soups, and curries. They are also sometimes ground into a powder and used as a protein supplement or as a seasoning.

It is important to note that consumption of mopane worms should be limited as they contain high levels of a toxin called ochratoxin, which can cause health problems in high doses.

Mopane Worm Nutrition

Mopane worms are highly nutritious, comprising of70% crude protein, making the a relatively cheap source of protein.

Sustainability Concerns

Harvesting Mopane Worms by cutting down trees

There are concerns that some harvesting methods are not sustainable for the continuation of the Mopane Worms cycle. To avoid extinction of the worms, about 10% of the worms should be left per tree for every harvest[1], this is however rarely the case as people compete to harvest as much as they can for home consumption or the market.

In Zimbabwe, the police sometimes mount roadblocks in areas of harvesting to monitor and restrict over-harvesting of the Mopane Worms. [2]

Harvesters sometimes cut down Mopane Trees to access the Worms, destroying the host and source of food for the worms. Trees take a long time to grow to maturity and be host to a significant number of worms.

References

  1. 1.0 1.1 MOPANE WORMS (Caterpillars of the MOPANE EMPEROR MOTH, Gonimbrasia belina), Bio Innovation, Accessed: 20 Jan 2023
  2. Mopane Worm Harvesters Flood Matabeleland Region, Pindula News, Published: 18 Jan 2023, Accessed: 20 Jan 2023