Bioecology of Imbrasia epimethea (Drury, 1773) caterpillars consumed in Kwilu province, Democratic Republic of the Congo
Imbrasia epimethea is one of the most esteemed and popular caterpillar species for its remarkable organoleptic and nutritional values. Its consumption extends throughout the Kwilu province and nearly the entire Democratic Republic of the Congo, but its supply is very limited. The high anthropogenic pressure and the poor harvesting techniques employed by the population of Kwilu pose a major threat to the conservation of the species. This study aims to investigate the bioecology of I. epimethea in order to develop semi-captive breeding techniques for these caterpillars, making them accessible to the population. In order to determine the host plants of I. epimethea, a survey was conducted among 424 caterpillar collectors from two populated and forested territories in the Kwilu province. To study the influence of changes in the caterpillars' diet on their growth and determine their developmental cycle, a breeding experiment was conducted. This study revealed that the caterpillars of I. epimethea do not accept transfers from Petersianthus macrocarpus to Funtumia africana. It also confirms the polyphagy of these caterpillars while indicating that, overall, P. macrocarpus proved to be the most suitable host in the Kwilu province. I. epimethea is a social species with a development cycle, from hatching to emergence, lasting approximately 115.33 ± 3.06 days. The larval stage lasts about a month but with a prolonged period of nymphal diapause. Further analysis of the leaves of P. macrocarpus and F. africana, as well as the analysis of the caterpillars themselves, along with several breeding trials, will provide further clarification on this matter.