Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The caterpillar from hell

From Wiki..will replace with my friend's photos
We are walking in a park near Old San Juan trying to find the tree that the parrots landed so that we can take pictures. My friend is pointing to a palm tree where they love to pick palm fruit. I can't see what she is talking about but a tree in front of me, stripped of most of its leaves, gets my attention. It is covered with enormous caterpillars in pairs munching away. These things are thicker and longer than my fingers! The abundant bird life were giving them a wide berth. We ask a lady walking her dog what these things are? Evil things. The tree had all its leaves that morning.
We have since researched this. They are pseudosphinx tetrio caterpillars that will turn into  large, gray hawk moths. They eat leaves from only one species, the frangipani (full of feathery flowers that the Hawaiians make leis from). Frangipani (plumeria) leaves contain a bitter, toxic substance (related to Oleander trees, remember the Michelle Pfeiffer character poisoning her lover with this stuff in White Oleander?)that give the caterpillars their bad taste. Also they look like coral snakes which make other creatures leave them alone. It is a two way street. The fragrant frangipani lack nectar to attract bees but the odor attracts these moths that help pollinate them. Some how the trees survive the caterpillars' destruction.
On the left are two trees of the same species: one covered with these caterpillars, the other not. This is where my small camera failed me but fortunately my friend with her big lenses was able to capture the caterpillars.

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