Caterpillar black yellow red and orange on leaves before turning to butterfly by Nadia Ali in Sweet T&T, Sweet TnT Magazine, Trinidad and Tobago, Trini, vacation, travel

The great caterpillar invasion

By Nadia Ali. The phone rang, “They’re here!” is all the voice said, but I knew in an instant what my neighbour Osman was talking about. We had this thing where once a year we would call each other to say one specific thing… they’re here! It was the announcement of the black and yellow fat caterpillar that laid claim to the frangipani trees in both of our gardens.

Caterpillar after the frangipani tree

When Osman and I first noticed them, we would call to discuss how best we could get rid of them. At the time we were unaware that these distinctive caterpillars were only after the green leaves of the frangipani tree and their presence would not lead to a hostile garden takeover.

Having discussed spraying them or squishing them, my little daughter and I would go out into the garden and pull them one by one off the branch with a tool and drop them into a bucket. It was later, through speaking to other people that I learned that the caterpillars were only after the green leaves of that one tree and would turn into a moth and fly away.

Scientific name for yellow and black caterpillar

I wanted to find out more about the squishy invaders in my garden and did some research. The caterpillar’s scientific name is Pseudosphinx Tetrio or the Tetrio Sphinx Moth. It is not indigenous to sweet T&T but originates from Central America. It is also more commonly known as the “Frangipani Hawkmoth” across the Caribbean.

The caterpillars really do come out in their numbers and it is normal to find 20 or so devouring the leaves on one tree. Looking closely you can actually see it chomping away at chunks of the leaves with powerful movements that can move the branch. Once they reach their maximum length of six inches they become a pupa which is the hard case.

Caterpillar transforms into Hawk Moth

We never found any of the pupas which are the cocoon-like shape things that the caterpillars spin to transform into the Hawk Moth. But sure enough after a while there would be an influx of big moths in the area.

So, if you notice the Pseudosphinx Tetrio on your trees, leave them alone so that they can fly home as the Hawk Moth and in no time your frangipani will be green and leafy once more, ready for the next caterpillar invasion.

June 2015 – Issue 16

Active learning in the classroom

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