• Stéphanie Périquet

Xmas presents: the Emperor Moth & the Mopane Worm

In southern Africa, summer rains bring countless flying, crawling and creeping visitors. But in the Mopane belt, in which Ongava is located, we are lucky enough to have a particularly beautiful one: the Speckled Emperor Moth (Gynanisa maja). These large moths (about 13 cm wingspan) usually become active after sunset for the first few hours of the night during which they look for mates. Males have large feathered antennae to locate females, which they must do quickly as they only live for a few days. After mating, the females lay their eggs on leaves that later hatch into larvae, which then moult 4 times during their growth. In the Anomalous Emperor (Imbrasia belina), the final larval stage that can be up to 10 cm long is called the Mopane worm (it is not a worm but a caterpillar, see picture above) and is harvested for human consumption. Caterpillars that survive later burrow underground to pupate and lie dormant over the winter. When conditions are favourable, new moths will emerge in the next summer.