Lagarta do mutuate
To find a maungo (gonimbrasia belina) you must search for the mopane tree, known to the tribes of Namibe province as mutuate (Colophospermum mopane), also known as the butterfly tree due to the form of its leaves. The caterpillar eats mopane leaves during its larval phase. While in this state – before pupation, when the larva becomes a pupa – the mopane worm is gathered. The insect is black with silver and light yellow-green streaks. During the larval phase the caterpillar is protected from predators by small black spines and thick white fur.
These larvae are an important source of protein for the rural communities, which are dependent on the harvesting of wild products. During the rainy season – from November to April – the larvae are collected: the caterpillars are pinched from the head to make the innards come out, and subsequently dried in the sun. They can then be salted for longer conservation. Besides a source of protein, the maungo is also an added source of income for the community, which sells the product in informal markets sometimes.
This caterpillar is found in the mopane ecosystem, a legume that is wide-spread between Angola, Namibia, Botswana, Malawi, Mozambique, Zambia and South Africa. In Namibe province, maungo is gathered near Bibala and Virei by the indigenous tribes of the province, the largest of which is the Mucabal ethnicity.
It is very difficult to define how many of these caterpillars are sold each year, as the gathering depends greatly on the rains. It is mainly used for personal consumption, but sometimes the product is also sold in informal markets. These insects can be eaten by themselves, flavored with garlic and gindungo – a spicy sauce – or with boiled rice and salad.
The presence of this insect is closely tied to the rains. The change in climate since 2011 in Namibe province is limiting the number of caterpillars an the plants. In March 2015, during the rainy season, there were no maungo on the plants. What’s more, as the communities lack sources of income, including this product, the only way to earn money is to extract vegetal coal from mopane trees, thus diminishing the insect’s natural habitat.