Ngala (South Africa). We “met” them – the Mopani (lat. Gonimbrasia belina) – in the middle of the bush. Beautiful animals: extremely colourful (almost neon!), spiky, showing lots of contrasts … and apparently (according to our safari guides) pretty tasty, too. We could literally pluck them from the trees. There were dozens of them. My daughters took turns holding the animals. [The worms] are not dangerous at all, but may poop now and then … and, yes, in case you wondered, it tickles a bit when they touch your skin.
The Mopani, or Mopane worm, is technically a species of moth. The moth it grows into (Emperor Moth) is a brownish grey, run-of-the-mill insect, which entirely lacks the eccentric beauty of its former self. The caterpillar got its name from the tree that it mostly feeds on: the Mopane Tree. But it can feed on many others as well, which explains why it is found across a fairly large area. Its main predators are birds and yes, humans – for whom it is a very important source of protein. For more on the Mopani, click here. It’s all very interesting, and if you ever get the chance to see one, do not hesitate to stroke it (they are as docile as they are beautiful).
When I saw the animal, I was immediately intrigued. No, I certainly wasn’t the first one touching it, but when my eldest daughter had plucked one from the trees, I could not resist taking as many worm ‘portraits’ as possible. The closeup above shows the Mopani’s awesome colours: a “neon blue” alternating with lime green; specks of bright orange sprinkled on the lime green sections. All of this set off against and criss-crossed by black accents which manifest themselves as specks, spikes or stripes. Looking even closer, one discovers the somewhat grainy, mosaic-like skin texture. Truly remarkable!
I would never have thought that all these colours work well together. But the Mopani convinced me otherwise. Thus, I tried my hand at moving from pure inspiration to actual design. Clearly, my creation has turned into something rather eclectic, but what else can you expect when you start your design journey under a Mopane tree?