Mitochondrial genomes and polymorphic regions of Gonimbrasia belina and Gynanisa maja (Lepidoptera: Saturniidae), two important edible caterpillars of Southern Africa.


Department of Genetics, Stellenbosch University, Private Bag X1, Matieland 7602, South Africa. Electronic address: [Email]


Mopane worms are the vernacular designation for the edible caterpillars of the African emperor moths Gonimbrasia belina and Gynanisa maja. Both species, particularly G. belina, are widely harvested in Southern Africa, and their populations are declining. Despite their commercial, nutritional, and cultural importance, their genetic data are currently unavailable. We sequenced two complete mitogenomes from each species using Ion Torrent technology, and identified informative markers in the complete mitogenomes of the two species for use in future studies. Comparing the conspecific mitogenomes allowed the identification of regions with high nucleotide diversity in ATP6, ND1, ND4, ND5, ND6, and CYTB genes. The final panels of markers will allow for the survey of 3117 bp in G. belina, and 3990 bp in Gy. maja. Phylogenetic reconstruction within the family Saturniidae recovered the tribe Bunaeini as monophyletic and basal to Saturniidae, and the tribe Attacini as a monophyletic clade nested within the tribe Saturniini. The G. belina and Gy. maja mitogenomes are the first representatives of African Saturniidae, a taxonomic group with relevance as a food resource on the continent. This study represents the first step towards assessing the genetic diversity, population structure, and phylogeography of African edible caterpillars.


African emperor moths,Bunaeini,Mitochondrial markers,Mopane worms,Phylogeny,

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