The eating of insects, also known as entomophagy, occurs worldwide in Africa, Asia, Australia and the Americas and has nutritional benefits particularly to those that have no other source of protein or are in the midst of a drought. The consumption of Encosternum delegorguei the edible stink bug may seem very strange, but is a sought after delicacy by South Africa's northern most ethnic group, the Venda, who lives predominantly in the far northern parts of the Limpopo Province.
The bugs are actually imported from Zimbabwe and Mozambique to supply the Thohoyandou market. Investigations on the medicinal and nutritional properties indicate a higher protein, vitamin and mineral content than beef, milk or eggs, as well as anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties The most widely used name is Thongolifha but it is also called Tsonônô meaning "he farts, he is fat" in Mapulaneng or Podile which is a sePedi generic term for all stink bugs.
Zimbabweans also consider it a delicacy and know it as Harugwa. The major harvesting areas in South Africa are around the Modjadji Cycad Reserve and Thohoyandou in Limpopo, but the bug is also collected in Mariepskop and Salique Forests in Mpumalanga. Winas Mashego, the conservation officer at Mariepskop, is concerned because the harvesters are chopping down trees to access the insect.
The plant eating adults aggregate during the winter and are easy pickings for harvesters early in the morning before the day's heat causes them to disperse. Thongolifha belongs to the order Hemiptera, family Tessaratomidae or inflated stink bugs.
The Hemiptera are characterised by piercing and sucking mouthparts and two pairs of wings of which the hind wings are reduced. The nymphs are comparable to the adult but smaller and wingless. Thongolifha has a shield body form, appears waxy greenyellow with a body length of 25 mm. No one knows where the nymphs feed and moult and the eggs have never been photographed. No data exists on the resource size, preferred habitat of nymphs and adults, food plants or the life cycle which would be useful for determining sustainable use.
These are the research questions which Cathy Dzerefos, a student registered with the University of the Witwatersrand and funded by the NRF through the Northern Flagship Institute is trying to answer.
The research depends upon community environmental knowledge so any information will be most welcome. Anyone with information on Thongolifha that could assist the project can contact Cathy Dzerefos on Cel: 083-746-2239 or Email: email@example.com or P O Box 276 Haenertsburg, 0730.