Speckled Emperor Moth (Gynanisa maia)
The Speckled Emperor Moth belongs to the family Saturniidae. Apart from mopane leaves the caterpillars are known to feed on Acacia, Elephantorrhiza, (Elephant-root)n and Combretum (Bushwillow) species. The larvae hatch out of white eggs which are laid on the Mopane leaves in clusters of 10 -12 eggs. The immature larvae are brown with large spikes. These grow into handsome luminous green12 -13 cm long caterpillars. These caterpillars have a red and white stripe running the length of the body laterally and are covered with tiny yellow spines and white dots.
Once fully grown the larvae climb down from the Mopane trees and pupate in underground chambers which they must dig. The emergent moth has two small eyespots on the forewing and large coloured eyespots on the hindwing. These ‘eyespots’ are used as a defense mechanism to frighten would be predators. Many adults from the Saturnidae family do not eat during the adult stage and instead have to rely on the fats stored up in their bodies during the larval growth. The adult male Speckled Emperor Moth has the most well developed feathery antennae of the Saturnidae family, this antennae is used to detect specific aroma secreted by the female of the species. Like many other insects these caterpillars form a very important food source for indigenous people in many regions of Africa. The Shangaan name for them is Gengelengednze. In Malawi (where they are known as Matondo) they are either fried or eaten in stews.
Although it is sometimes frightening to see how trees are stripped of leaves by these hungry caterpillars once the moths have emerged the trees regrow their leaves and the cycle continues showing us how resilient nature really is.
Pinhey, E.C.G. 1975. Moths of Southern Africa. Tafelberg Publshers Ltd., Cape Town.
Fromme, A. 2005. Edible Insects. ZooGoer 34(4).