Mopane worms
Mopane worms are a delicacy in Africa, with three times the protein content of beef (

Customs officers at Gatwick Airport received a shock when they discovered thousands of dried caterpillars in the luggage of a man, who claimed they were for "personal consumption".

The huge insects were found last week, shrink-wrapped in plastic and stuffed into four hessian bags, in the luggage of a 22-year-old man who had travelled from Burkina Faso.

The seizure was the biggest ever of its kind, with the bugs breaching controls on the importation of "products of animal origin".

"This was an unusual seizure but the vigilance of our officers has stopped these dried insects from entering the UK, and possibly posing a risk to our food chain," Ingrid Smith, a spokeswoman for the UK Border Agency told the Independent.

Specialists said the caterpillars are likely to be mopane worms, the larvae of emperor moths, which are commonly eaten in Africa.

When the caterpillar is picked, it is pinched at the tail end to rupture the innards. The picker squeezes it like a tube of toothpaste or lengthwise like a concertina, and then gives it a quick flick of the wrist to expel the slimy, green contents of the gut.

Dried mopane worms can be eaten raw as a crunchy snack. Alternatively, they can be soaked to rehydrate, before being fried until they are crisp, or cooked with onion, tomatoes and spices.

Dried mopane worms are frequently canned or packaged in tomato or chilli sauce to enhance the flavour. The yellow flesh is said to taste like honey barbecued chicken.

The online retailer Firebox offers 40g tins of mopane worms for £16.99, and they have a high nutritional value, with three times the protein of beef.

The haul of nearly 100kg of caterpillars would cost around £40,000 to replace. Unfortunately for the man who brought them into the country, they were destroyed.

Mopane worms
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Weird smuggling

The mopane worms are by no means the strangest item to have been smuggled in through customs. A teenager from Dubai once tried to smuggle her chameleon into Manchester Airport by wearing it as a hat.

"At first I thought it was plastic," said a fellow passenger. "But then I saw its tongue flick out."

The most shameless case of a customs confiscation involves a Melbourne man who said his life was ruined after officers took his hard drive because it contained pornography.

Ross Mansfield had his hard drive confiscated when he was coming home from a holiday in the Philippines.

"They said I had some suspicious material on there," he told the Australian Associated Press.

"I said, 'I forgot to remove any porn because my friends in the Philippines, they download it, they're mutual friends'."

Mansfield says despite the suspicious film was nothing more than standard porn.

"They (Customs) are violating my rights," he added.

Despite defending the contents of the hard drive, Mansfield admitted to not having seen the film and said "I don't know what it is".

Other movies found included Adult Pretty Woman, Real Female Orgasm, Asian Babe Moans, My Friend's Hot Mum and Sexy Blond.

"I've got my livelihood on there," he said.

"I'm more worried about the fact that they try and wipe out what's on my hard drive."

The award for most bizarre case goes to the Chilean family who tried to wheel a dead relative through security in a wheelchair at JFK airport, to avoid paying the fee for transporting a body.