Caterpillars no reason to panic
DON’T PANIC if you see large, colourful, worm-like creatures crawling on the trees around your home and in your garden. They are caterpillars and don’t present problems for fruit trees. That is the word from head of entomology in the Ministry of Agriculture, Ian Gibbs.
Gibbs reports receiving at least 200 calls in the last few months from worried householders about these creatures spotted all across the island.
“People see these big caterpillars. They have never seen them before and they get all uptight. Some [people] want them removed as quickly as possible from their premises,” he said.
“But I guess because it is pretty new and gets large – a caterpillar can get up to about six inches long – when people see that they tend to freak out,” he added.
The entomologist – a scientist who studies insects – explained that the caterpillars were the larvae of the frangipani moth, also known as Pseudosphinx tetrio. They feed primarily on the frangipani tree and plant and occasionally Allamanda and Desert Rose. They do not damage crops or ornamental flowers.
Gibbs said that contrary to what people suggest they had not suddenly appeared in Barbados.
“That insect is endemic to the Caribbean and Latin America and has been here before, but we have not seen it at [this] intensity in the last year and a half,” he commented.
As to fears of pets like dogs and cats playing with and biting the caterpillars, Gibbs explained that the insects’ colouring suggests to predators not to eat them as they may be poisonous, and this is understood.“I would not recommend anybody eating them or playing with them because they can give you a little nip occasionally too,” he said.
In the last several weeks, householders have been contacting the SATURDAY SUN about these caterpillars and sending us pictures.
Their destructive nature was captured by reader Teresa Marshall. Her photos are of a neighbour’s frangipani tree when it became infested with the caterpillars and one week later. “Pound for pound, I would wager they can out-eat a Giant African Snail, although their lifespan appears shorter and their tastes less eclectic,” wrote Marshall.
“They are not animals, they are not pets and they certainly are not friendly. Pick one up and you will see what I mean . . . And at the end of it all, they turn into very large, very unattractive brown moths which invade your house at night,” said Marshall.
Gibbs said householders had three options to deal with these caterpillars. They can:
(1) Do nothing. After the caterpillars have defoliated them, the frangipani plants will recover and produce new leaves again.
(2) Remove the caterpillars from the plants and destroy them.
(3) Spray the plants with an insecticide. You can use a systemic insecticide such as Perfekthion®. This insecticide penetrates the leaves so that when the caterpillars feed on them they will be killed. If you want to use an organic insecticide, use NewBt® or Dipel Pro®.
Gibbs said if householders were spraying the organic insecticides, it was best to do so in the late evening, after 4:30 p.m., because the insects were sensitive to ultraviolet light. He said the caterpillars die two to three hours after feeding on the treated leaves.