Common name: Shitumu/situmu/chitoumou (Dioula), kpwiye (Bobo), mone-mone (Yoruba), chenilles du karité (French), shea tree caterpillar
Scientific name: Cirina butyrospermi
Shitumu, or shea tree caterpillars, are larvae of the night butterfly Cirina butyrospermi. This butterfly lives for just 72 hours, in which time the female lays about 450 eggs on the leaves of shea trees. The fertilized eggs take a month to develop, and the larvae hatch in May after the rains. They then go through five growth stages before becoming the mature caterpillars known as shitumu in Burkina Faso, which are gathered before entering the chrysalis phase. Mature caterpillars are about 4cm long, 1cm wide and very meaty, and they can decimate the foliage of entire shea trees if left unchecked (slowfoodfoundation.com, Jonathon Deutsch and Natalya Murakhver 2012).
HABITAT AND RANGE
Shitumu feed exclusively on leaves of the shea tree (Vitellaria paradoxa C.F. Gaertn), which grows across the African savannah landscape from Senegal to Uganda and Ethiopia (Ugese et al 2011).
Shitumu may reduce the productivity of shea trees (which are exploited for many food and cosmetic ingredients and are economically important), but they are also a favored protein source in shea-producing areas including Nigeria, Ghana, and Burkina Faso. They are used in many traditional dishes and can be fried, boiled, dried, added to soups and salads, or eaten in sandwiches! In May to August they are the main source of protein for the Bobo ethnic group of southwestern Burkina Faso, and have become popular among other peoples of Burkina Faso and Nigeria where they can be found at markets; various reports suggest that they taste like fried egg or fish (Jonathon Deutsch and Natalya Murakhver 2012). In August the Bobo even have a festival dedicated to shitumu (slowfoodfoundation.com). As well as being higher in protein that local fish sources (63%), they are also a source of fats including omega-3, as well as micronutrients such as calcium, potassium, and iron (blogs.worldbank.org). Furthermore they provide an important income source for local women between May and August (Jonathon Deutsch and Natalya Murakhver 2012). One local entrepreneur is even working on tackling food insecurity by drying and canning the caterpillars for year-round consumption (blogs.worldbank.org), and Slowfood has registered shitumu in their Ark of Taste database which aims to protect diverse local food products around the world. There is concern over overharvesting and local initiatives to ensure that a breeding population of butterflies is maintained are in place (slowfoodfoundation.org)
Jonathon Deutsch and Natalya Murakhver (2012). "They Eat What? A Cultural Encyclopedia of Weird and Exotic Food from around the World." Reference Reviews 27, no. 3 (2013): 15-16.
http://www.slowfoodfoundation.com/ark/details/2198/shea-tree- caterpillars#.VMgMsUesWSo [accessed 31.01.2015]
Ugese, F. D., Ahen, A., & Ishar, S. S. (2011). Single defoliation had little influence on growth and dry matter attributes of shea (Vitellaria paradoxa CF Gaertn.) seedlings. Forests, Trees, and Livelihoods, 20(4), 283-294
JENNIE HARVEY MSC
Jennie has an academic background in Biology and Ethnobotany and is currently studying for a PhD in Geography. She has interests in ethnobiology, biocultural conservation, traditional knowledge, and sustainable food systems.