Deadly creatures among the sea grapes
When trekking directly to a set destination, so much of the forest goes unnoticed. Taking the time to really explore the vegetation in front of you and under you on the forest floor, you can discover quite fascinating creatures that usually go unannounced.
While our Outfit was roaming the coastline of Guayaguayare, this columnnist saw, for the first time, one creature that was so beautiful yet so harmful to anyone who touches it. Raymond was the first to discover its presence and he called out excitedly, "You all come see this!"
We had no idea what he had encountered. Maybe a zanana, now scarce, maybe a morocoy that was once populous in this area, maybe a few ripe sea grapes among the many green bunches we could see hanging from the branches of the tree.
When we reached him, he was pointing to this small white creature with glorious red hair and saying "Don't touch this, it's poisonous!"
We peered at this tiny creature and found it to be a caterpillar. What a beauty of a caterpillar! We just wanted to feel that soft red hair surrounding its body.
Raymond cautioned against this. "This is what we call 'chine macaque', chine being the Trini word for caterpillar and macaque the French word for monkey. When I was fourteen years old I got stung by this. This is one 'chine' I will never forget because it put me in hospital."
The white caterpillar was indeed bristling all over. Those thick tufts of long red hair looked exactly like the hair of a monkey, the red howler to be exact. This creature had obviously come out to feed as is usual at certain stages of its life. It paused along the trunk of the tree for quite some time, those hairy mechanisms of defence never relaxing. After about ten minutes it continued on its way down the branch and into a grassy area.
According to another member of our Outfit, Ronald, this 'chine' has not been seen in our forests or around our coastline for many years. Ronald remembers seeing this when he was a small boy. His grand father had warned him against picking up 'bafflo' from the ground because it might not have been the cottony clouds floating off the 'bafflo' tree but a 'chine macaque'. When he saw this strange crawling type of 'bafflo' he called out to his grand father who identified it as the awesome chine macaque.
The 'bafflo' tree is another name for the silk cotton tree. This tree already has so much folklore attached to it that this new comparison adds further to its fearsome mystery.
The chine macaque is really the beautiful but deadly flannel moth caterpillar that is shunned by Hondurans and Mexicans. It inflicts a sting that causes painful rashes, welts, numbness, headaches and nausea. It is found among the sea grapes that hem the coastline.
Children were searching for ripe sea grapes that morning. We caused quite a bit of a stir when we showed them photos and warned them of the presence of this caterpillar that causes harm to those who are not aware of its potential.