White maguey worms (Acentrocneme hesperiaris) are butterfly larvae that live in the leaves of the maguey tree, which are wild agaves, from July to December, when their metamorphosis is complete. The butterfly deposits its eggs within the meaty leaves of the plants and these eggs, if left to live for their entire life cycle, become butterflies after about a month and then fly away. The larvae’s dimensions vary slightly both in length and width, with the largest being about the size of a finger. They are a clear brown color with white blotches, whence they get their name.
The tlachiqueros, the technical name of the people who gather these worms, check the leaves of the plants to see which ones have either a black spot or a dark circle, as this is evidence that there are larvae inside. The worms are gathered in from August through October. Once the leaves with larvae have been spotted, the gatherers use a hook shaped leaf from the same plant to slowly pull the insects out. It takes an expert hand to extract the insects, as it is easy to break or ruin the leaves. These larvae are prepared in a pan without any oil, as they are already very fatty, and they are eaten as a snack or inside of tacos. The white maguey worms are found for the most part in the northeastern areas of Tlaxcala and the Idalgo area. Roughly 50 – 80 liters of these worms are collected every year. They are at risk of disappearing because the maguey plant is endangered, as it is being replaced by more profitable plants and is threatened by pollution and pesticides.
Image: © Marco Del Comune & Oliver Migliore