The region as treated here is comprised mainly of Angola, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Congo (Brazzaville), Congo (Kinshasa) (formerly Zaire), Kenya, Malawi, Tanzania, Uganda, and Zambia. The wide variety of insects eaten includes at least 163 species, 121 genera, 34 families and 10 orders. Of this group the specific identity is known for 128 species, only the generic identity for another 21, only the family identity of another 12 and only the order identity of one. Gomez et al (1961) estimated that insects furnished 10% of the animal proteins produced annually in Congo (Kinshasa). Yet, in this region, as in others, insect use has been greatly under-reported and under-studied. Until recently, for example, the specific identity was known for fewer than twenty species of insects used in Congo (Kinshasa), but, in a careful study confined only to caterpillars and only to the southern part of the country, Malaisse and Parent (1980) distinguished 35 species of caterpillars used as food. The extent of insect use throughout the region is probably similar to that in Congo (Kinshasa) and Zambia, the best-studied countries. Research is needed.
Caterpillars and termites are the most widely marketed insects in the region, but many others are also important from the food standpoint, nutritionally, economically or ecologically. As stated by this author (DeFoliart 1989): “One can’t help but wonder what the ecological and nutritional maps of Africa might look like today if more effort had been directed toward developing some of these caterpillar, termite, and other food insect resources.” The inclusion of food insects in the Africa-wide Exhibition on Indigenous Food Technologies held in Nairobi, Kenya, in 1995 is indicative of the resurgence of interest in this resource by the scientific community of the continent.
Regional Taxonomic Inventory
Taxa and stages consumed Countries
Beetles/beetle grubs Pan-regional
Bostrichidae (branch and twig borers)
Bostrichid larvae Congo (Brazzaville)
Buprestidae (metallic woodborers)
Chrysobothris fatalis Harold, larva Angola
Psiloptera wellmani Kerremans, larva Angola
Steraspis amplipennis Fabr., larva Angola
Sternocera feldspathica White, larva Angola
Cerambycidae (long-horned beetles)
Acanthophorus capensis (author?), larva Zambia
Acanthophorus confinis Laporte, larva Zambia
Acanthophorus maculatus (author?), larva Zambia
Ancylonotus tribulus Fabr., larva Gabon
Macrotoma edulis Karsch, larva Sao Tome & Principe
Zographus ferox Har. Angola
Cermbycid larvae Congo (Brazzaville)
Curculionidae (weevils, snout beetles)
Rhynchophorus phoenicis Fabr., larva Pan-regional
Sipalinus aloysii (author?), larva Tanzania
Elateridae (click beetles)
Tetralobus flabellicornis Linn., larva Central African Republic
Passalidae (bess beetles)
Passalids Congo (Brazzaville)
Scarabaeidae (scarab beetles)
Augosoma centaurus Fabr., larva Cameroon, Congo (Brazzaville)
Camenta sp., larva Angola
Gnathocera sp., larva Congo (Kinshasa)
Goliathus sp., larva Congo (Kinshasa)
Oryctes boas (Fabr.), larva Congo (Brazzaville), Congo (Kinshasa)
Oryctes owariensis Beauv., larva Congo (Brazzaville), Congo (Kinshasa)
Pachylomera fermoralis Zambia
Platygenia barbata Afzelius, larva Congo (Kinshasa)
Platygenia spp., larvae Tropical Africa
Popillia femoralis Klug, adult Cameroon
Popillia spp., adults Cameroon
Chaoboridae (phantom midges)
Chaoborus edulis (Edwards), adult Malawi, Tanzania, Uganda
Lake flies Kenya
Caenis kungu (author?), adult Malawi
Belostomatidae (giant water bugs)
Belostoma spp. Congo (Brazzaville)
A nepid Congo (Kinshasa)
Nezara robusta (author?), adult Malawi
Sphaerocoris sp., adult Malawi
A cercopid Congo (Kinshasa)
Afzeliada sp., adult Congo (Brazzaville)
Ioba leopardina (author?), adult Zambia
Loba sp., adult Malawi
Monomotapa sp., adult Malawi
Orapa sp., adult Malawi
Platypleura adouma Distant, adult Congo (Brazzaville)
Platypleura sp., adult Malawi
Platypleura stridula (author?), adult Zambia
Pyona sp., adult Malawi
Ugada giovannina Fabr., adult Congo (Brazzaville)
Ugada limbalis Karsch, adult Zambia
Ugada limbata Fabr., adult Congo (Brazzaville)
Ugada limbimaculata Fabr., adult Congo (Brazzaville)
Apidae (honey bees)
Apis mellifera adansonii Latr., larva Tanzania, Congo (Kinshasa), Zambia
Apis mellifera capensis (author?), larva Zambia
Meliponula bocandei Spin., larva Congo (Kinshasa)
Trigona braunsi Kohl, larva Congo (Kinshasa)
Trigona erythra interposita Darchen, larva Congo (Kinshasa)
Trigona lendliana Fr., larva Congo (Kinshasa)
Trigona occidentalis Darchen, larva Congo (Kinshasa)
Trigona richardsi Darchen, larva Congo (Knshasa)
Bee larvae Angola, Kenya, Malawi, Uganda
Carebara vidua F. Smith, flying sexual Malawi, Congo (Kinshasa), Zambia
Oecophylla smaragdina longinoda (author?), larva, adult Congo (Kinshasa)
Oecophylla sp. Congo (Brazzaville)
Sternotornis sp., winged adult Congo (Kinshasa)
Sphecidae (sphecoid wasps)
Sceliphron sp., “fly nests” Congo (Kinshasa)
Vespidae (wasps, hornets)
Synagris sp., “fly nests” Congo (Kinshasa)
Wasp brood Congo (Kinshasa)
Termites, flying ants, white ants, etc. Pan-regional
Bellicositermes spp., winged adults, soldiers Congo (Kinshasa)
Cubitermes spp., all stages Congo (Brazzaville)
Macrotermes bellicosus Smeathman, all stages Congo (Brazzaville)
Macrotermes falciger Gerstacker, winged adult Zambia
Macrotermes natalensis Haviland, winged adult, soldier Congo (Kinshasa)
Macrotermes spp., winged adults, soldiers Malawi, Tanzania, Congo (Kinshasa)
Macrotermes subhyalinus Rambur, winged adult Angola, Zambia
Macrotermes vitrialatus (Sjostedt), winged adult Zambia
Odontotermes badius (Haviland), winged adult Zambia
Odontotermes sp. Kenya
Pseudacanthotermes spiniger Sjostedt, winged adult Congo (Kinshasa), Zambia
Pseudacanthotermes spp., winged adults Tanzania
Termes gabonensis (author?), winged adult, soldier Congo (Kinshasa)
Termes spp., winged adults, queens Tanzania
Ceratocampid larvae (2 spp.) Congo (Kinshasa)
Caeliades libeon Druce, larva Congo (Brazzaville), Congo (Kinshasa)
Lasiocampidae (eggar moths, lappets)
Catalebeda jamesoni B.-Bak, pupa Zambia
Pachypasa bilinea Walk., pupa Zambia
Limacodidae (slug caterpillars)
Limacodid caterpillars Congo (Kinshasa), Zambia
Busseola fusca Hmps., larva Zambia
Heliothis obsoleta Fabr., larva Zambia
Nyodes prasinodes Prout, larva Congo (Kinshasa)
Sphingomorpha chlorea Cr., larva Zambia
Spodoptera exempta Walker, larva Zambia
Spodoptera exigua Hubner, larva Zambia
Noctuid larvae Congo (Brazzaville)
Anaphe infracta Walsingham, larva Congo (Brazzaville), Zambia
Anaphe panda (Boisd.), larva Tanzania, Congo (Kinshasa)
Anaphe sp., larva Cameroon, Congo (Brazzaville), Congo (Kinshasa)
Antheua insignata Gaede, larva Congo (Kinshasa)
Desmeocraera sp., larva Zambia
Drapetides uniformis Swinhoe, larva Congo (Kinshasa)
Elaphrodes lactea Gaede, larva Congo (Kinshasa)
Rhenea mediata Walker, larva Congo (Kinshasa)
Notodontid larvae (3 additional species) Congo (Kinshasa)
Nymphalidae (brush-footed butterflies)
Nymphalid larvae Congo (Kinshasa)
Psychidae (bagworm moths)
Clania moddermanni (author?), larva Congo (Kinshasa)
Eumeta cervina Druce, larva Congo (Kinshasa)
Eumeta rougeoti Bourgogne, larva Congo (Kinshasa)
Saturniidae (giant silkworm moths)
Anthocera monippe (author?), larva Gabon
Anthocera spp., larvae Gabon
Anthocera teffraria (author?), larva Gabon
Athletes gigas Sonthonnax, larva Congo (Kinshasa)
Athletes semialba Sonthonnax, larva Congo (Kinshasa)
Bunaea alcinoe Stoll, larva Tanzania, Congo (Kinshasa), Zambia
Bunaeopsis aurantiaca Rothschild, larva Congo (Brazzaville), Congo (Kinshasa)
Bunaeopsis sp., larva, pupa Zambia
Cinabra hyperbius Westwood, larva Congo (Kinshasa), Zambia
Cirina forda Westwood, larva Congo (Brazzaville), Congo (Kinshasa), Zambia
Gonimbrasia belina Westwood, larva Malawi, Zambia
Gonimbrasia hecate Rougeot, larva Congo (Kinshasa)
Gonimbrasia richelmanni Weymer, larva Congo (Kinshasa)
Gonimbrasia zambesina Walker, larva Congo (Kinshasa)
Goodia kuntzei Dewitz, larva Congo (Kinshasa)
Gynanisa maia ata Strand, larva Malawi, Congo (Kinshasa), Zambia
Holocerina agomensis Karsch, larva Zambia
Imbrasia dione Fabr., larva Congo (Kinshasa)
Imbrasia epimethea Drury, larva Congo (Kinshasa), Zambia
Imbrasia ertli Rebel, larva Angola
Imbrasia macrothyris Rothschild, larva Congo (Kinshasa)
Imbrasia obscura (author?), larva Congo (Brazzaville)
Imbrasia rubra Bouvier, larva Congo (Kinshasa)
Imbrasia spp., larvae Congo (Brazzaville), Congo (Kinshasa)
Imbrasia truncata (author?), larva Congo (Brazzaville), Congo (Kinshasa)
Lobobunaea christyi Sharpe, larva Zambia
Lobobunaea saturnus Fabr., larva Congo (Kinshasa), Zambia
Melanocera parva Rothschild, larva Congo (Kinshasa)
Micragone ansorgei Rothschild, larva Zambia
Micragone cana Aurivillius, larva Congo (Kinshasa)
Micragone herilla Westw., larva Congo (Kinshasa)
Nudaurelia oyemensis (author?), larva Congo (Brazzaville), Congo (Kinshasa)
Nudaurelia spp., larvae Congo (Kinshasa)
Pseudantheraea discrepens Butler, larva Congo (Brazzaville)
Tagaropsis flavinata Walker, larva Congo (Kinshasa)
Saturnia marchi (author?), larva Gabon
Urota sinope Westw., larva Gabon, Congo (Kinshasa)
Usta terpsichore M.& W., larva Angola
Sphingidae (sphinx or hawk-moths)
Herse convolvuli (Linn.), larva Zambia
Nephele comma Hoppfer, pupa Zambia
Sphingid larvae Congo (Brazzaville), Congo (Kinshasa)
Dragonfly nymphs Cameroon, Congo (Brazzaville)
Acrididae (short-horned grasshoppers)
Acanthacris ruficornis Fabr., adult Congo (Brazzaville), Malawi, Zambia
Acorypha nigrovariegata (author?), adult Zambia
Acrida sulphuripennis Gerstacker, adult Zambia
Affroxyrrhepes procera Burmeister, adult Congo (Brazzaville)
Affroxyrrhepes sp., adult Zambia
Amblyptymus sp., adult Zambia
Ampe sp., adult Congo (Brazzaville)
Cantatops ornatus (author?), adult Zambia
Cantatops sp., adult Zambia
Cantatops spissus Walker, adult Congo (Brazzaville)
Cardeniopsis guttatus (author?), adult Zambia
Chirista compta Walker, adult Congo (Brazzaville)
Cyathosternum sp., adult Zambia
Cyrtacanthacris aeruginosa (author?), adult Malawi, Zambia
Cyrtacanthacris septemfasciata Serville, adult
Malawi, Tanzania, Uganda, Congo (Kinshasa), Zambia
Cyrtacanthacris tartaria (author?), adult Zambia
Gastrimargus africanus Saussure, adult Congo (Brazzaville)
Heteracris guineensis Krauss, adult Congo (Brazzaville)
Homoxyrrhepes punctipennis Walker, nymph, adult Congo (Kinshasa)
Locusta m. migratoria Linn., adult Congo (Brazzaville), Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia
Locusta migratoria migratorioides R.& F., adult Congo (Kinshasa), Zambia
Locustana pardalina (Walker), adult Zambia
Oedaleus nigrofasciatus (author?), adult Zambia
Ornithacris spp., adults Zambia
Ornithacris turbida (author?), adult Congo (Brazzaville)
Oxycantatops congoensis Sjostedt, adult Congo (Brazzaville)
Poecilocerastis sp., adult Zambia
Schistocerca gregaria Forskal, adult Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia
Schistocerca peregrinatoria Linn. Angola
Grasshoppers/ locusts Pan-regional
Cockroaches Congo (Kinshasa)
Acheta spp., adults Zambia
Brachytrupes membranaceus Drury, adult Pan-regional
Gryllus bimaculatus De Geer, adult Zambia
Gryllotalpidae (mole crickets)
Gryllotalpa africana Palisot Uganda
Tettigoniidae (long-horned grasshoppers)
Ruspolia differens Audinet-Serville, adult Uganda, Congo (Kinshasa), Zambia
Ruspolia vicinus Walker, adult Malawi, Tanzania
Tettigonia sp. Congo (Brazzaville)
Much information is available on the insect foods in this region, and highlights are briefly summarized below under each country, with countries treated in alphabetical order (except that Congo (Kinshasa) which was still known as Zaire when this chapter was written is still located between Uganda and Zambia). Nutrient analyses have been conducted in several countries, with especially valuable studies in Angola and Congo (Kinshasa). Partly because of their remarkable abundance caterpillars and termites are not only of great nutritional importance but also of great ecological importance. In studies in Malawi, Congo (Kinshasa) and Zambia, the food importance of caterpillars has been shown to be a factor that can result in better forest management and protection. Throughout the region, generally, insects are a favored food and widely marketed.
In Angola, Oliveira et al provide nutrient analyses of four commonly eaten species, a termite, two species of saturniid caterpillars and the palm weevil larva (see Angola Table 1). The insects are shown to be high in crude protein, calories and many of the important vitamins and minerals. The termite, Macrotermes subhyalinus, and the palm weevil larva, Rhynchophorus phoenicis, are especially high in energy value, 613 and 561 kcal/100 g, respectively, and the weevil larva and the saturniid caterpillar, Usta terpsichore, are high in zinc, thiamine and riboflavin. The caterpillar is also a rich source of iron. Of other insects, Wellman mentions that the people are very fond of roasted locusts and that the cricket Brachytrupes membranaceus is esteemed a great delicacy. The cricket is collected mainly by the women, often in great numbers, and by children.
Among the insects marketed in Cameroon are Anaphe and saturniid larvae, Rhynchophorus weevil larvae and Popillia beetles. Grimaldi and Bikia provide a recipe for the weevil larva, which they describe as a favorite dish offered only to “good friends.” Merle (1958) suggests that Africa would do well “not to brutally reject its whole past,” and that the rearing of edible caterpillars should be considered by appropriate agencies. The abundance of the wild caterpillars is hard to believe, according to Merle, who states that even when not seen, their presence can be detected by the sound of their chewing or the sound of frass hitting the ground. Tessmann reported that 21 species of caterpillars are eaten by the Pangwe; the scientific identity has not been reported for any of them, thus showing the need for taxonomic studies in Cameroon.
Little information is available concerning insect consumption in the Central African Republic, but termites and caterpillars are widely sold, and Noyes compares the welcome given the termite season with that given the advent of the oyster season by British gourmets. Junker reports that he soon overcame his repugnance to locusts, finding them in fact to be “very palatable.”
In Congo (Brazzaville), Nkouka states that many of the nutritional deficiencies observed in hospitals are found among people who have lost contact with traditional foods and whose income is inadequate for suitable replacement. In earlier years, consumption of caterpillars around Brazzaville was estimated at 30 g/person/day, and Nkouka believes that promoting the use of edible insects merits more attention. Bani, as did Nkouka earlier, decries the attitude that insects are “uncivilized” food or a vestige of a time long past, and similarly urges greater promotion and popularizing of insects for improving both nutrition and local economies. Some species command a higher price in the market than imported meat.
The palm weevil larva, Rhynchophorus phoenicis, according to Bani, is the “most appreciated” edible insect in Congo (Brazzaville), and Nkouka notes that its rarity in the markets and its taste make it a high-priced food. Termites, similarly to caterpillars of many species, are popular and widely sold. Grasshoppers and other Orthoptera are also sold in the markets, allowing people from rural areas to use these insects as a “cash crop” (Bani 1995). Two former U.S. Peace Corps Volunteers (Bissmeyer and Dury 1992) asked, after sampling palm grubs and other Congo (Brazzaville) edible insects, “Why are insects so taboo in America?; they make quite tasty snacks.” Nutritional analyses of cooked caterpillars of Anaphe infracta by Le Clerc et al showed them to contain 51.5% protein and a calory value of 3198/kg. Fatty acids were 64% unsaturated. Nkouka compiled data useful in comparing nutritive value of edible insects and other local foods (see Congo-Brazzaville Table 1).
It is evident that further research is needed on the use of edible insects in the Congo (Brazzaville) and their taxonomic identity. Nkouka states that more than 20 species of caterpillars are used in Baya country but provides the taxonomic identity for none of them, and Bani mentions that many species of caterpillars and grasshoppers are used in addition to those now known.
Information on Kenya is limited and pertains mostly to termites and lake flies (Chaoboridae), both of which are found in markets. According to Massam, winged termites and honey are distinctly luxury foods and are “especially esteemed” when eaten together. Grasshoppers, both short-horned (Acrididae) and long-horned (Tettigoniidae) are also eaten. In research on the red locust (presumably Cyrtacanthacris septemfasciata) as a protein source for pigs, the insects (sundried) were found to have a crude protein content of 58.4%.
A wide variety of insects are consumed in Malawi. Shaxson et al (1985) provide recipes for many of them and state that, “It is not generally known in the Western world that insects are a very good and cheap source of protein.” These authors state, relative to the lake fly, Chaoborus edulis, that it is “extremely nutritious,” high in protein and calcium and contains six times as much iron as ox liver. A study by Munthali and Mughogho (1992) shows the potential of edible caterpillars in efforts to preserve biodiversity. Beginning in 1990, Malawi’s Department of National Parks and Wildlife allowed some of the families living around Kasungu National Park to harvest caterpillars in the Park, and simultaneously initiated modern bee-keeping in the Park in order to diversify the rural communities’ income base and to win their support for wildlife conservation programs. The study demonstrates the advantages of introducing economic incentives that integrate biological conservation with economic development for the rural people, and shows that opening national parks and other wildlife preserves to controlled sustainable use by local populations can reduce the problems of poaching in protected areas.
In Tanzania, many insects are included as a regular part of the diet (Harris 1940), but relatively little information is available about them. According to Harris, the lake fly, Chaoborus edulis is important in the limited areas where it occurs, as are termites in the western part of the country where they are sold in the local markets. Locusts of several species are widely eaten, and, fried in butter, their flavor is reminiscent of shrimps, according to Harris. According to Mors (1958), the long-horned grasshopper, Ruspolia, known as nsenene, is “the greatest delicacy of the Bahaya.” They occur in vast swarms and are collected mainly by the women and children. All land is communal when it comes to nsenene, and owners cannot exclude trespassers who come to collect them.
Owen (1973) notes that in Uganda, as elsewhere in tropical Africa, the insect species used as food are those that are locally or seasonally abundant, and people who are no longer dependent on wild foods still collect insects. Relative to the European aversion, Owen states that “insects are indeed good to eat and some taste as good as the best lobster or crab.” As with some other foods, ritual ceremonies and discriminatory taboos govern the use of some important species; “some insects are held in high esteem and are therefore reserved by custom for the more important and senior members of the community.” Widely eaten insects include termites, lake flies, caterpillars, crickets, locusts and the tettigoniid grasshopper known as nsenene (Ruspolia).
Termites are widely marketed and sometimes transported long distances to markets. Termite mounds are individually owned (Owen). Osmaston (1951) regarded raw termites as “one of Uganda’s cheapest luxuries,” describing the flavor as delicate and excellent, “somewhere between fried whitebait and hazelnuts.” Osmaston predicted the future development of “vast termitaria” under government promotion. Although caterpillars are widely marketed, according to Owen, he gives no clue to their identity. Relative to other insects, Owen reported that the cricket, Brachytrupes membranaceus, is regarded as a particular delicacy, and that the streets of Kampala may become completely blocked to traffic by people who come in from the countryside to collect nsenene, which are attracted in vast numbers by the city lights.
In Congo (Kinshasa) (formerly Zaire), Malaisse and Parent (1980) analyzed caterpillars of 23 species (including 17 Saturniidae), with samples prepared in a manner identical to that which precedes their culinary preparation and then dehydrated. Crude protein content averaged 63.5%, kcal/100 g averaged 457 (ranging up to 543), and most species proved an excellent source of iron, 100 g averaging 335% of the daily requirement. Kondondi et al (1987) analyzed three species of saturniids for vitamins and conducted rat-feeding trials showing that vitamins supplied by the caterpillars are sufficient to allow proper growth of young rats, except for vitamins B1 and B6. According to Chinn (1945), caterpillars are eaten very frequently when in season, and a native eats 400 g of fresh caterpillars per meal. Analysis of a Nudaurelia species yielded a dry weight protein content of 62.1% and fat content of 16.1%, but digestibility was only 50%, thus reducing their dietary value. For some people in the province of Coquilhatville, caterpillars are the main source of animal protein for five months of the year, for three months as fresh caterpillars and for two additional months as smoked caterpillars. Among the Yansi, caterpillars are harvested mainly by women and children, according to Muyay, although men are beginning to harvest them more for sale in the cities. Several species are reserved for the children. Miracle (1967) describes a system of caterpillar farming practiced by the Holo, and states that these caterpillars (species not known) are “the delicacies of connoisseurs, the equal of caviar, snails, or truffles among the European gourmets.”
Analysis of Elaphrodes lactea by Malaisse et al (1969) revealed that lipid content of this notodontid caterpillar (29.6%) is more than twice the values reported for most other caterpillar species. It is also a significant addition to the protein supply of the rural people. The investigators urge that its food importance be considered in determining forest protection policies against this species which is an important forest defoliator (see below for quantitative data).
Relative to the Kwango, LeLeup and Daems (1969) state that: “Large game having become very scarce, it is fish, and especially caterpillars, of which certain species abound, that constitute the most important sources of protein for local consumption.” They are also a source of income. Of more than 30 species consumed in the Kwango and Kwilu districts, only three (the widely eaten Cirina forda and two other saturniid larvae) account for most of the exports. From 1954 to 1958, the dried caterpillar production in the district was estimated at 280-300 tons per year. Because of reduced annual tonnage after that period, LeLeup and Daems were commissioned by the territorial administration to determine whether fluctuations and reduced tonnage might be caused by badly-timed burning. The three exported species all pupate underground, but the adult moths emerge and lay their eggs at different times. Although other complicating factors were involved, the investigators were able to determine the optimum dates for burning that minimize caterpillar destruction (see Congo (Kinshasa) Figure 1); other recommendations were: 1) enforce the ban on felling trees to harvest caterpillars, 2) forbid the increasing practice of harvesting pupae, 3) encourage resowing attempts on a massive scale by collection of eggs prior to burning, and 4) create “reserves” of some small wooded savannahs in which all harvest for purposes of consumption would be forbidden.
Proximate analysis of winged Macrotermes natalensis, conducted by Chinn, revealed a dry matter content of 33.06% protein and 54.68% fat, while Termes gabonensis soldiers were 37.05% protein and 3.00% fat. Chinn mentions that the natives are “wild” about winged termites, and he compared the taste of the winged forms to that of hazelnuts. Tihon says of lightly grilled termites sold in the market at Kinshasa that they are a food that “the majority of natives consume voraciously.” In some areas, termite hills are considered village property. Reporting that analysis of termites revealed a calorific value of 561 kcal/100 g, Tihon suggested that the use of termites, along with caterpillars and larval and adult beetles, should be encouraged in meeting the dietary needs of the inhabitants. According to Muyay, the delicious taste and protein content of termites make them a good meal for children, and Hegh (1922) notes that roasted termites are suitable to the European palate. Bequaert (1921) observed dried soldier termites for sale; he also mentions that termite hills are considered private property in the Uele district.
Chinn found a dry matter content of 52.4% protein in larvae of the palm weevil, Rhynchophorus phoenicis, and a dry matter content of 48.3% in analysis of a mixture of adult and larval weaver ants, Oecophylla smaragdina longinoda. He says of palm weevil larvae that they are always eaten alone, as a delicacy, and have a taste like light wine. The Bakela may eat 250 g of the larvae at a time, and the harvest and selling of the larvae was, in times past, their principal source of revenue. Concerning orthopterans, Bouvier (1945) mentions that older people remembered locust invasions as a period of food abundance. The locusts did relatively little damage to corn plantings and manioc (the staple food) and were very much appreciated. Among the Yansi (Muyay), some kinds of grasshoppers are eaten mainly by children, and crickets are harvested mainly by women and children. A woman may collect 400 or more crickets in a night, and when many are caught, some are smoke-dried and bought by traders who sell them in the large towns.
Insects are widely marketed in Congo (Kinshasa). Adriaens (1951), for example, reported that a single store in the commercial center of Kwenge had stocked 50 bags of caterpillars, 50 kg per bag with caterpillars priced at 12 francs per kilo, making them slightly more expensive than dried salted fish and much more expensive than hulled rice, peanuts, maize and manioc. The large mafundi (larvae of the beetle, Platygenia barbata) were much cheaper at a native market in Feshi, one lot of 15 selling for 1 fr 50. The larvae are harvested by the women. At a public market in Lubumbashi, Heymans and Evrard (1970) purchased soldier termites, winged termites, caterpillars of two kinds and grasshoppers. All of these insects are prized by the local populations; they are low-priced and make not a negligible contribution to nutrition, according to Heymans and Evrard. Katya Kitsa (1989) conducted a survey on household expenditures for edible insects in the city of Kananga, and estimated that the average consumption was 663 g insects/person/month or 12,000 tons for the city as a whole. Relative quantities consumed (weight basis) were termites (35%), caterpillars (30%), other larvae (23%) and grasshoppers (12%). On a weight basis, the price of smoked caterpillars was only 26% of the price of beef. Katya Kitsa recommended that health workers should be paying more attention to edible insects as a protein source. Former Peace Corps Volunteers reported encountering a variety of edible insects for sale in markets in different parts of Congo (Kinshasa), including palm grubs and other beetle grubs, caterpillars, termites and grasshoppers. Some species were collected mainly by women and/or children.
In Zambia, nutrient analyses of foods used by the Bemba revealed 65 g protein/100 g of insect for dried caterpillars compared to 32 g for dried fish, 30 g for roast venison and lesser amounts for other foods (Richards 1939). Caterpillars are the single most important source of nutrients during the “hunger months,” November to February, when the other most widely available foods are fresh mushrooms and fruits which contain only 2 g and 1 g protein, respectively. Kumar (1990) confirms the importance of insect foods during the hunger season, noting that the nutritional contribution is small on an annual basis, but very significant on a seasonal basis. Insect items are included in the Zambian food composition tables which are widely used by nutritionists in the country. While Kumar says there seems to be a trend toward reduced consumption of insects, Mbata (1995) states that entomophagy is gaining prominence in recent years as the result of drought and poor economic conditions. Large quantities of insects, especially caterpillars, grasshoppers and termites, are brought from rural areas for sale in town markets. According to Mbata, entomophagy has undoubtedly played an important role in reducing kwashiorkor in young children.
The classic studies of Silow (1976, 1983) have shed much light on the use of caterpillars and termites in Zambia. Silow lists a number of tribes in which it is generally agreed that the meat of winged sexuals of Macrotermes spp. is better than the meat of animals, birds or fish; most people consider Macrotermes or honey to be “the best existing food.” The winged Macrotermes are widely marketed. A few people don’t eat termites, and some missionaries have condemned termite eating as a heathen custom. Caterpillars of at least three families, Saturniidae, Lasiocampidae and Sphingidae, are marketed, and representatives of several other families are eaten. A few caterpillars are considered comparable, or nearly comparable, to termites in taste, and Silow mentions that even the least-liked caterpillar, a limacodid called kavambe, is liked better than fish. Silow decries the European influence that has undermined the traditional attitudes toward caterpillars.
In Zambia, as in Malawi and Congo (Kinshasa), the food importance of caterpillars has been shown to be a factor that can result in ecological benefits, in that the desire by local populations for protection of traditional food resources can be favorable for good forest management. Late burning during the dry season can severely damage regeneration of the miombo woodland, killing trees, reducing regrowth and increasing erosion. The best way to prevent this damage is by early burning. In part of the country, there is a saturniid caterpillar known as mumpa which is important both as a source of nutrition and source of income. Holden (1991) observed that there were very few late fires in the areas where the mumpa caterpillars are found. The people are careful to burn early to protect the caterpillars, thus also enhancing woodland regeneration.
Platt (1962: 24) tabulated the results of proximate, mineral and vitamin analyses of four types of commonly used edible insects in Africa. These tabulations were greatly extended by Wu Leung (1968: 165-176). Data on nutrient content of raw, dried, smoked and fried African termites are shown in Central and Eastern Africa Table 1 (see Wu Leung pp. 175-176, and data on three additional species occurring in this region, Chaoborus edulis (lake fly), Carebara sp. (winged ant) and Brachytrupes membranaceus (cricket) in CEA Table 2 (see Wu Leung pp. 165, 168, 169). As stated by the compilers of these data, “Unless the compositions of local foods [are] known, calculations of the habitual diet and the introduction of complementary foods to combat malnutrition cannot be put into practice satisfactorily.”
The ecological importance of edible caterpillars as a tool in preserving biological diversity is readily apparent from studies cited above in Malawi (Munthali and Mughogho), Congo (Kinshasa) (LeLeup and Daems) and Zambia (Holden). Abundance is a factor. Many observors in the region have been impressed by the prodigious numbers of individuals in some edible caterpillar populations, and Malaisse provided quantitative data on one of them, Elaphrodes lactea, in Congo (Kinshasa). E. lactea is an oligophagous species that feeds only on the Caesalpiniaceae (Malaisse 1978). Malaisse et al (1969) discussed the biology and described the extensive defoliation it causes periodically to its food tree, Brachystegia boehmii. Malaisse (1978) states that E. lactea, because of the predominance of its host plants in the tree stratum, is capable of “spectacular destruction and total defoliation over large areas.” Malaisse lists several parasites and predators and notes that these provide effective population control during the second year of buildups. Rearing experiments showed that, at their peak density, monthly leaf consumption by E. lactea was 733 m2/ha (a dry weight of 98 kg/ha) and the dry weight of their feces was 90 kg/ha. The effect on tree growth is unknown but new leaves appear in May or June.
Termites are also important in preserving biodiversity, and they are also abundant. The high termitaria of some species of the termite genus Macrotermes are a spectacular feature of the African landscape. The mounds are not only imposing in size, reaching 8 meters in height and 15 m in width, but the termitaria vegetation is characteristic and quite different from that of the surrounding miombo woodland (Malaisse 1974). In southern Congo (Kinshasa) the mounds average 3-5 per hectare and may cover 4.3 to 7.8% of the miombo. Malaisse (1978b) states that assuming “only one primary active termite mound per hectare, the biomass of a Macrotermes falciger colony represents 35 percent of the total pedofauna biomass in miombo.”
The characteristic termite hill flora mentioned above is ecologically important in that it creates additional habitat diversity. The termite hill flora numbers more than 200 species in both Zambia and southern Congo (Kinshasa) but differs significantly from one region to another. And of 72 termitaria species listed by Wild in Zimbabwe, only 17 can be found on the high termitaria of Shaba in southern Congo (Kinshasa) (Malaisse 1978b). Malaisse points out that three species of edible saturniid larvae in Congo (Kinshasa) feed only on Shaban termite hill plants, i.e., Tagaropsis flavinata on Allophyllus africanus, Urota sinope on Erythrina abyssinica, and Gonimbrasia zambesina on Piliostigma thonningii, Diospyros mespiliformis and Strychnos potatorum. Three other species that feed on termite hill plants, i.e., Bunaea alcinoe on Balanites aegyptica and Piliostigma thonningi, Gonimbrasia hecate (= nictitans) on Combretum molle and C. mechowianum, and G. richelmanni on Annona senegalensis, also feed on other miombo plants. Macrotermes are only sporadically serious pests, occasionally causing damage locally to such crops as coconut, coffee, cocoa, clove, groundnuts, rice, sugarcane, fruit trees and forest trees (Hill 1983: 172).
Macrotermes not only build large mounds, but the termites themselves are large, the alates of Macrotermes falciger for example having a wing span of 85 mm or more and the major soldiers a length of more than 15 mm (Ruelle 1970). The termites (Subfamily Macrotermitinae) are fungus growers. They do not have symbiotic intestinal microorganisms, so they utilize the plant cellulose by carrying collected plant material back to the nest for construction, in special chambers, of honeycombed fungus gardens inoculated with the fungus Termitomyces. The mycelium spreads over the cellulose “garden” and at intervals along the hyphae are found white, globular swellings known as bromatia, on which the termites feed (Hill 1983: 172).
It is difficult to determine the number of individuals and the biomass of a termite nest population. Malaisse (1978b) cites other workers for an estimate of two million individuals as the average number in the Upper Shaba of Congo (Kinshasa) where M. falciger is the main inhabitant of primary active termitaria. In such a colony, winged individuals number only an estimated 59,405 (3%) but comprise 9,800 g (59.9%) of the dry weight biomass. Based on an average of four mounds per hectare, one can calculate that active primary termitaria constitute a regenerative system producing nearly 40 kg/ha (dry weight) per year (winged individuals only) of harvestable high-protein, high-energy food. Productivity is somewhat higher if harvest of soldier termites is included. Also, termites of several other genera including the edible Odontotermes and Pseudacanthotermes frequently establish their underground nest chambers at the bases of the large mounds, further increasing productivity.
Like Macrotermes, Odontotermes and Pseudacanthotermes belong to the subfamily Macrotermitinae and are fungus growers. They are more serious pests of crops than is Macrotermes. In addition, O. badius is often found under buildings (and, in S. Africa, is said to cause more damage to buildings than is caused by all of the other subterranean termites combined) (Ruelle 1970).
Unfortunately, the future of the high termitaria is dark. Malaisse (1978b) reports that in suburban regions and towns, although the mounds persist, their flora and fauna have been destroyed. They have become the main supplier of brick-clay and a favorable site for maize crops; they are sometimes converted into flower-beds, and near villages they are frequently opened and used as ovens. Malaisse notes that the decay of the termitaria began a long time ago, following the destruction of vegetation that increasingly resulted in a greater number of abandoned and fossil termitaria.
Manipulation of the African mound-builders for greater food production does not appear possible, but their presence and decline add one more reason why tropical forest destruction is to be lamented and slowed if possible. They seldom do serious damage to trees or crops and represent a food resource that is lost when the forest is destroyed.
References Cited (References not listed here are listed under the appropriate country as referred to in the text above. All references listed here were seen)
DeFoliart, G.R. 1989. The human use of insects as food and as animal feed. Bull. Entomol. Soc. Amer. 35: 22-35.
Hill, D.S. 1983. Agricultural Insect Pests of the Tropics and Their Control. London: Cambridge Univ. Press.
Malaisse, F. 1978). The miombo ecosystem. In: A. Sasson (Ed.), Tropical Forest Ecosystems. A report prepared by Unesco/UNEP/FAO. Paris: Unesco, pp. 589-606.
Malaisse, F. 1978b. High termitaria. In: M.J.A. Werger (Ed.), Biogeography and Ecology of Southern Africa. Junk: The Hague. Monogr. Biologicae 31(2): 1279-1300.
Platt, B.S. 1962. Tables of representative values of foods commonly used in tropical countries. Med. Res. Counc. Spec. Rep. Ser. No. 302. London: H.M.S.O.
Ruelle, J.E. 1970. A revision of the termites of the genus Macrotermes from the Ethiopian Region (Isoptera: Termitidae). Bull. Brit. Mus. Nat. Hist. (Entomol.) 24: 365-444.
Wu Leung, W.-T. 1968. Food composition table for use in Africa. Joint publication by U.S. Dept. Hlth, Educ., Welfare, Bethesda, MD, and FAO, Rome.
Chapter 15 of The Human Use of Insects as a Food Resource: A Bibliographic Account in Progress, by Gene R. De Foliart, posted on website July, 2002.
The Human Use of Insects as a Food Resource: A Bibliographic Account in Progress Chapter 15
Gene R. De Foliart
Department of Entomology
University of Wisconsin-Madison