If you’ve been lucky enough to be on island over the past few weeks, chances are you’ve noticed an absence of leaves on certain small trees around the island. It’s also probably very likely that you’ve noticed a very attractive little caterpillar nearby. Well no need to worry, the leaves aren’t disappearing around the island. It’s simply frangipani season.
Each year the pseudosphinx tetrio, which is a fancy way of saying the frangipani caterpillar or frangipani hornworm, makes an appearance on St. John, eating up all of the frangipani leaves in its paths. The black caterpillars are very flashy looking with bright red heads and almost neon yellow stripes along their bodies. They can eat up to three leaves a day, which means you might have a gorgeous frangipani tree in the morning and simply a tree trunk and branches in the afternoon. But no need to worry, the caterpillars don’t kill the tree; they simply eat all of the leaves.
Frangipani is also known as plumeria. There’s a great looking one out at Annaberg. We haven’t been out there in a bit, so I’m not sure if it’s in bloom or if the caterpillars have gotten to it yet. If any of you are out there, please let us know.
Here’s a bit more information on the frangipani tree and caterpillar courtesy of Gerald Singer’s See St. John:
The native or wild frangipani has a smooth bark and long slender leaves. It produces a pleasant aromatic flower that is always white.
Its imported relative, Plumeria rubra, may have pink or white flowers.
Both varieties have soft fat twigs that serve to hold water during dry periods.
Every year their leaves are eaten by a beautiful, large, black and yellow caterpillar with a red head.
They are called frangipani caterpillars, and after they eat up all the leaves they begin a metamorphosis and eventually become a big dark moth called the sphinx moth.
I don’t know about all of you, but I think the caterpillar is more visually pleasing than the moth. But alas, the circle of life. 🙂