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  • Writer's pictureCari Mackey

The black caterpillars covering the trees of Panama.

Updated: Apr 24, 2023

As a kid, we loved caterpillars those cute little fuzzy things. We let them crawl on us, we pet them, we watched them morph into beautiful butterflies but here in Panama, they are some of the most venomous beings in the jungle. Not only do you not touch them, but you don't even want them to brush up against your skin.

Simply brushing up against a toxic flower or bug, or caterpillar, can create a terrible sting, itch, or lesion. It's pretty rare that this happens but not a great way to spend your holiday time.

The Ammalo Helops caterpillar (above) likely has some skin irritant compounds on its hairs so like everything in nature, best to observe their beauty, take some photos, and don't touch them.

After it's metamorphosis it's called an Ammalo Moth. This time of year, they are every where! Well actually, they pretty much stick to fig trees and because there are 74 different types of fig trees in Panama, it seems like they're everywhere. After they hatch from their eggs, they all stay close together which is why you see them in clusters like this. As they grow, they shed their skin which are the smaller dots on the trees. So, there are all these amazing trees covered in body parts. Kinda gross but those body parts are food for other bugs and nutrients for the jungle floor. Now don't freak out. It's highly unlikely you will be harmed by them as they undulate their way through the jungle. Don't worry, I had to look up what that meant too. It's the squeezing of their muscles in a wavy motion that causes them to move. Just like Michael Jackson's worm! Oh, and this compression and extension of muscles is also how they breathe. - the movement causes air to go in and out of spiracles, which are holes along the sides of their bodies for oxygen to enter their system. As with everything, these guys have important roles in nature. They are food for predators, and when they turn into beautiful moths they are essential pollinators for plants. They are part of what we love about nature too - pure beauty! We all love watching moths fly around and they are also indicators of a healthy ecosystem. So please, just let them do their thing, put away the chemicals and enjoy them as they fly around feeding your pretty flowers. Or, come join us and watch them undulate (not likely I will remember the meaning of that word later, but I'll try) and fly around this magical jungle.

Your Friends in Morrillo, Cari and Ryan Mackey Owners and Hosts Morrillo Beach Eco Resort

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