The worm in the bottle makes the agave schnapps Mezcal a cult in its country of origin, Mexico. Alcohol has been produced since the 17th century. But it wasn't until the 1940s and 1950s that some manufacturers started adding a special ingredient: worms, which are strictly speaking larvae.
So far it was unclear to which animal species the larvae belong exactly, different species are possible. With the help of DNA analyzes of so-called Mezcal worms, an international team of researchers has now been able to show that the larvae of the moth Comadia redtenbacheri are predominantly used. According to the researchers, this circumstance endangers the existence of the animals. Mezcal is being produced in ever-increasing quantities. Overall, the experts examined larvae from 21 different Mezcals.
"Our finding that all larvae belong to a single moth species reinforces the importance of C. redtenbacheri for the mezcal industry," the researchers led by Akito Kawahara of Florida University in Gainesville write in the journal PeerJ Life
"The larvae of C. redtenbacheri develop in agaves and not in tree trunks, roots, crowns, trunks or branches," write the team of scientists. The animals laid their eggs in agave plants. As the moths accumulated in large numbers in the plant, the agave died. Larvae collectors, known as gusaneros, identified infested agave plants and pulled out the larvae with a metal hook or an agave spike.
According to the researchers, the intensive collection drastically reduces the number of naturally occurring larvae. Therefore, methods are being worked on to breed the larvae in a targeted manner.