Agave Worms

Cossidae, Cossinae, Comadia redtenbacheri, and Megathymidae, Aegialinae, Aegiale hesperiaris. Spanish: Gusanos del maguey. Nahuatl: Meocuilin.

In the central, dry highlands of Mexico, potent fermented beverages have been made from the sap of various species of agave plants since prehistoric times. During the harvesting of the sap, when the center leaves are cut open, the larvae of these two lepidopterans are commonly found and collected along with the fluid. Curiously, although similar, they were clearly distinguished by the Aztecs, who referred to the larvae of the moth as chilocuiles and of the hesperiid as meocuili (MacGregor 1969). Today, they are ordinarily confused by the layman, both being unicolorous, white, wormlike larvae with inconspicuous legs (a modification in keeping with their habits as borers). To the Indians and campesinos, they often become food, as they are rich in fats, and were also consumed for medicinal reasons (Bachstez and Aragón 1942), but a select number were pickled in the brew, normally mezcal, to give it a "special flavor." Even today, bottles of the better brands of this liquor contain such caterpillars (see fig. 1.14). More normally, they are fried in grease or their own fat or braised and chopped into fragments and mixed with soup or green tomato sauce or other dishes.

Unmolested, Comedia redtenbacheri larvae develop into moths (fig. 10.14d) with long gray, mottled wings; Aegiale hespariaris (fig. 10.14e) becomes a large brown skipper butterfly (Ancona 1934, Dampf 1924).

References

Ancona, L. 1934. Los gusanitos del maguey,

Aegiale (Acenlrocneme hesperiaris) Kirby. Inst.

Bachstez, M., and A. Aragón. 1942. Notes on Mexican drugs. II. Characteristics and composition of the fatty oil from "gusanos de Maguey" (caterpillars of Acentrocneme hesperi-aris). J. Amer. Pharm. Assoc. Sci. Ed. 31: 145-146.

Dampf, A. 1924. Estudio morfológico del gusano del maguey (Acentrocneme hesperiaris Wlk.) (Lepidoptera, Megathymidae). Rev. Biol. Mexicana 4: 147-161.

MacGregor, R. 1969. La représentation des insectes dans l'ancien Mexique. L'Entomologiste 25: 1-8.

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