But here is something.
The purpose of this note is to draw attention to a long forgotten observa-
tion which points to the existence of a new hallucinogen, unique in that its
source is an insect.
Augustin de Saint-Hilaire (1779-1853) travelled extensively in eastern
Brazil between 1816 and 1823 and after his return to France published
valuable observations on the geography, ethnology and natural history of the
country. In two of his unpublished works Saint-Hilaire (1824, republished
Jenkins, 1946, p. 49; 1830, pp. 432-433) described the use of an insect as
food and medicine by the Malalis, natives in the Brazilian province of Minas
The relevant passage (1824) (translated) is as follows:
When I was among the Malalis, in the province of Mines, they spoke much of a grub
which they regarded as a delicious food, and which is called bicho de tacuara (bamboo-
worm), because it is found in the stems of bamboos, but only when these bear flowers.
Some Portugese who have lived among the Indians value these worms no less than the
natives themselves; they melt them on the fire, forming them into an oily mass, and
so preserve them for use in the preparation of food. The Malalis consider the head of
the bicho de tacuara as a dangerous poison; but all agree in saying that this creature,
dried and reduced to powder constitutes a powerful vulnerary (for the healing of
wounds). If one is to believe these Indians and the Portugese themselves it is not only
for this use that the former preserve the bicho de tacuara . When strong emotion makes
them sleepless, they swallow, they say, one of these worms dried, without the head
but with the intestinal tube; and then they fall into a kind of ecstatic sleep, which often
lasts more than a day, and similar to that experienced by the Orientals when they take
opium in excess. They tell, on awakening, of marvellous dreams; they saw splendid
forests, they ate delicious fruits, they killed without difficulty the most choice game;
but these Malalis add that they take care to indulge only rarely in this debilitating
kind of pleasure. I saw them only with the bicho de tacuara dried and without heads;
but during a botanical trip that I made to Saint-Francois with my Botocudo, this
young man found a great many of these grubs in flowering bamboos, and set about
eating them in my presence. He broke open the creature and carefully removed the
head and intestinal tube, and sucked out the soft whitish substance which re-
mained in the skin. In spite of my repugnance, I followed the example of the young
savage, and found, in this strange food, an extremely agreeable flavour which recalled
that of the most delicate cream.
If then, as I can hardly doubt, the account of the Malalis is true, the narcotic
property of the bicho de tacuara resides solely in the intestinal tube, since the sur-
rounding fat produces no ill effect. Be that as it may, I submitted to M. Latreille the
description of the animal I had made, and this learned entomologist recognised
it as a caterpillar probably belonging to the genus 'Cossus' or to the genus 'Hepiale'.