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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Harvesting Pandora Moth Larvae with the Owens Valley Paiute


The harvesting of Pandora moth larvae (Coloradia pandora lindseyi Barns and Benjamin), or piagi, by the Owens Valley Paiute and other native peoples of the Sierra Nevada of California, has attracted varied attention since the turn of the century. Early papers by entomologists, including Aldrich (1912, 1921), Eldredge (1923), Englehardt (1924), Patterson (1929), and Essig (1934), described the basic process, but were based more on hearsay than on direct observation. They thus created some fanciful impressions. Later ethnographic descriptions, such as those by Steward (1933) and Davis (1965), helped sort fact from fancy, although not completely, as they too were based on secondhand information rather than direct observation. In June, 1981, we observed elderly Paiute from Bishop, California, harvesting and processing Pandora moth larvae. At that time, cost/benefit checks were made on both collection and processing, to which basic nutritional data were added. That season the larvae were collected by hand rather than by the tree-base trenching method that is well attested in the archaeological and ethnographic records. In June, 1982, we planned some additional experiments with the trenching method of collection, in order to compare the basic efficiency of the two techniques. Although unable to complete the experiments because of a population collapse among the larvae, we were able to extrapolate some data from other sources toward these comparisons. This paper focuses on these results, after first describing and illustrating the basic harvesting techniques.

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