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  • Writer's pictureORC Intern

Sunday shopping done differently

The mopane worm (Gonimbrasia belina) is an unusual edible little critter found in parts of southern Africa. Its life cycle is particularly interesting. After hatching from an egg, the caterpillar feeds on mopane tree (Colophospermum mopane) leaves. The growing larva moults four times in its five larval stages, and thereafter burrows underground to encase itself as a pupa. Some years later an adult moth will emerge from the pupa, mate quickly and lay eggs if it is a female, and then die within a short and sweet three to four days.

These funky caterpillars are an important source of protein for many people living in northern Namibia and elsewhere. They are usually harvested after their fourth moult. The harvesting and selling of mopane worms has become a multi-million dollar industry in southern Africa, and over-harvesting may pose a threat to future populations.

On the 3rd of April 2022 we did our own type of mopane worm harvesting. With few expectations we set out at the crack of dawn and made our way to where the caterpillars had been spotted the day before. To our surprise we stumbled across an army of plump worms crossing the road. Due to their slow-creeping movements, we sadly found numerous mopane road-kills and decided we could get ample tissue samples by collecting those less fortunate ones, while also helping some of their more fortunate companions to cross the road. Before we knew it our first Sunday shopping bag was full. We recorded the necessary data and drove on.

Soon after we found ourselves at our next retail outlet in Outjo filling our next bag with wrapped food. At the end of our mopane shopping-spree we were very happy customers with our … full bags. We even came across a few other people who had also had a successful shopping day and were amazed by the sheer number of worms they had harvested.

My first Namibian expedition had come to an end, and it is safe to say that that was a Sunday shop with a twist.

Author: Saskia Borger, ORC Intern

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