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Some good from frangipani moths

Suzanne Griffith

Some good from frangipani moths

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Kids have eagle eyes. I spend loads of time at my kitchen sink; luckily it’s framed by a kitchen window and a view of a beautiful frangipani tree.
Recently as I was, not so happily, washing the dishes, my son called out: “Mummy, look, a caterpillar.”
Not another Christmas worm I thought to myself. If you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all.
“No, no,” he said, “it’s on the tree with the pretty white flowers!”
I squinted through the screen netting and still I could see nothing. Then I saw it, an enormous black caterpillar with neon green stripes, red feet and a horn. Mind you, there was more than one; more like an entire army.
I knew they were coming. I’ve watched them systematically strip two trees across the street of all their leaves; it was only a matter of time.
Frangipani caterpillars are true to their name, they feed on the foliage of the frangipani and allamanda trees.
The good news is that they won’t trouble your vegetables. I decided to do a little research on them; at the end of the day I’m resolved that like many other pests they play a role in nature’s cycles, and their activity should be embraced.
Frangipani caterpillars start out as miniature eggs in clumps laid on the underside of the leaves of their intended target the unsuspecting tree.
In a short time the vibrant creatures mature, reaching as much as six inches in length, and as thick a round as your finger. It is said that their colourful costume resembles that of the poisonous coral snake sending a warning to predators, namely birds, to stay clear of its poisons.
I’m not too keen on getting up close and personal with one, but avail yourself of the up-close images available online, these are some amazing creatures. Scientists that have worked with the caterpillars report having been bitten by them on occasion; so be cautious.
There are mixed opinions on the “damage” done by these colourful creatures. As the caterpillars make their way through the foliage they produce a great deal of waste as evidenced by the droppings surrounding the tree.
Many believe that these droppings serve as the ultimate fertilizer causing the tree to come back even more beautifully the following season.
There are also those who take the simplistic view that the leaves would have fallen off any way as the tree prepares for the dry season. Most who allow the caterpillars to do their work are of the opinion that it is all within the natural cycle of the tree.
As the caterpillars enter the next stage of their lifecycle they drop to the ground burrowing in the dirt or other decaying organic matter becoming pupae.
The pupae transform into another dramatic creature, with a dramatic name, the giant grey sphinx moth. The moth, it turns out, plays a critical role, alongside bees and hummingbirds, in pollination. Who knew?
So the next time you see one of nature’s creatures in your yard take the time to find out a bit about it, you’ll never know what you might discover!