Master of Camouflage
Throughout most of Africa the baobob tree tree is believed to possess spiritual and magical qualities. The first baobob trees were brought to the Caribbean by slaves carrying seeds of the sacred tree. Although there are several specimens on St. Thomas and St. Croix is thought to have more baobob trees than any island in the Caribbean, on St. John there is only one tree.
If you would like to see our one and only baobob, you can access it by taking the L’Esperance or Great Seiban Trails.
One morning, April 10, to be exact, I noticed these little caterpillars all on one branch of my native frangipani tree. Caterpillars are nothing unusual for this tree as probably for as long as this tree has been in existence, which I suspect has been more than 100 years, frangipani caterpillars periodically eat every single leaf on the tree.
I’ve been living here for more than a decade and because of the voracious appetite of the frangipani caterpillars for the frangipani leaf, I’ve only seen the tree flower twice. Normally frangipani trees flower after the onslaught of the caterpillars, but not this one.
But the caterpillars I saw that Friday morning were different than the large black, yellow striped caterpillars that I’d been accustomed to finding all over the tree munching on the leaves. They were similar, but much smaller, not nearly as colorful and all of them were congregated on one branch. I was fairly sure that they were baby frangipani caterpillars, but I was intrigued. Why were they only on one branch and where did they come from?
As I’ve been fascinated with these creatures, I decided to do a little study. I photographed them that morning and again the next day, when they began to look more like the frangipani caterpillars I was used to, although smaller and still on that single branch.
The frangipani caterpillar is also called frangipani hornworm because of the black hornlike feature on its posterior. This caterpillar also seems to be in the process of defecating, thus fertilizing the tree as it drops to the ground.
In a few days the caterpillars resembled those I was used to seeing on the tree. They spread out and got big and fat and colorful and within a little more than two weeks had consumed every leaf on the tree. This time I was ready for them. I wanted to see what happened to them next. Where they go?
This morning, with every scrap of leaf gone, the caterpillars crawled down the tree trunk and I followed them. Some crawled one way and others went in the opposite direction. Eventually they found area where old leaves were piled up and composting. They burrowed into the leaves and disappeared from my sight.
I waited about 30 minutes and removed the leaves from where I last saw the caterpillar, where I found this similar-looking creature. It appeared curled up, stiff and shrunken, but moved to burrow further into the soil when exposed.
From what I’ve read about the frangipani caterpillar, this might be the beginning of the pupa stage from which eventually emerges the Tetrio or Giant Gray Sphinx moth and then again it might be a different creature altogether.
On further inspection of the leaf litter, I found the frangipani caterpillar. The creature I thought might be the pupa, is, apparently a yellow-banded millepede.
The West Indian locust can be found throughout the Caribbean, Mexico, and Central and South America. On St. John it thrives in moist forest regions such as Reef Bay and Bordeaux Mountain.
The tree serves itself up as a sumptuous meal for a medium sized woodpecker commonly known as the yellow-bellied sapsucker. Every so often yellowbellied sapsuckers visit St. John. One of their favorite activities is to drill a band of small holes in the tree’s trunk. (The West Indian locust is the only tree on St. John marked in this way thus offering those who are interested an easy method of identification.)
To repair these wounds the tree secretes a sweet sap, which the yellowbellied sapsucker licks up with its long bushy tongue. If the yellowbellied sapsucker is lucky, the sap will attract ants and other juicy insects, which are happily consumed along with the delicious sweet goo. (The National Park information sign says that the yellowbellied sapsucker makes the holes in the locust tree only to attract insects and not to suck the sap. Many experts, however, do not agree with this theory.)
Despite the unappealing name, and an equally unappealing odor, many Virgin Islanders, especially children, have been known to enjoy its sweet taste.
The seedpods look like big fat toes and the mealy pulp around the seeds, although foul smelling, is edible and good tasting.
Curtney Chinnery, a native of Jost Van Dyke and aficionado of Virgin Island culture, gives this description of the stinking toe fruit:
“We here in the Virgin Islands call the fruit of the West Indian locust stinking toe. The fruit is brown with the shape of a large toe. The shell is hard and not easy to break. The inside substance is dry, hairy, powdery and yellow. The seed is the same shape as the fruit itself only smaller. Once the shell is open an odor is released that can be said to be just about unbearable. This is a strange thing because the locust fruit tastes so good once one engages in the eating of it. Then it’s not easy to be satisfied by eating just one. Unfortunately the odor from the locust is a lingering one and this may cause you problems. For example it is not easy to get someone to kiss you after eating a stinking toe fruit.”
Apparently the banned pesticide that seriously sickened a family visiting St. John has been used elsewhere in the Virgin Islands and by other companies besides Terminex. Meanwhile government officials are trying to track down vacationers who stayed at villas in the Virgin Islands who may have been exposed to the deadly pesticide…. read article
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Isolated showers. Mostly sunny, with a high near 76. East wind around 16 mph, with gusts as high as 23 mph. Chance of precipitation is 20%.
The genip (Meliococcus bijugatus) is characterized by its smooth bark with a mottled grey green pattern that is caused by lichen. It can grow up to 100 feet high, but most trees on St. John only reach about 60 feet.
Genips are native to South America and were most likely brought to St. John by Amerindians for their fruit. On St. John, they are considered an invasive species because they are so prolific and so adaptive to the local environment that they can crowd out other vegetation. For example, they are extremely drought resistant. In times of drought, when most trees have lost their leaves, the only bright green trees left will invariably be genips. Also, because the fruit is so popular, not only with humans, but also with other animals, the seeds are spread all about the forests and beyond.
Notwithstanding their classification as invasive, one hardly hears an outcry for their elimination, which I believe is the result of the popularity of the fruit, and for the most part, the dark side of the genip tree has been ignored.
In the summer the tree bears a green fruit that grows in bunches. The taste and texture is somewhat similar to its cousin the lychee.
How to eat
The genip fruit has a thin, ridged skin that you crack with your teeth and remove. You can then suck the tasty tart, tangy, yellow pulp that surrounds the large seed within. If you care abouth what you’re wearing, be careful not to get the juice on your clothing as it will leave a permanent brownish stain. Genip seeds can be roasted and eaten like chestnuts.
Locally known as genips or canips, the tree and fruit are also called mamoncillo, mamón (be careful here, the word, mamón , is considered obscene in some Spanish-speaking countries), chenet, gnep, ginep, guinep, kinnip, quenepa, Spanish lime and limoncillo.
The smoke from burning genip leaves is said to drive away mosquitoes and sand fleas.
It is said that girls learn the art of kissing by eating this sweet, but tart fruit. Try one and you’ll understand.
Brrr, it’s cold!
The temperature is forecast to drop down to a bone-chilling 68 degree F this afternoon. With wind gusts as high as 25 mph, I wonder if we have a windchill factor happening?
Forecast for St. John US Virgin Islands today:
Scattered showers, mainly before noon. Mostly sunny, with a temperature falling to around 68 by 1pm. East wind around 18 mph, with gusts as high as 25 mph. Chance of precipitation is 50%. New precipitation amounts of less than a tenth of an inch possible.
The banned pesticide linked to poisoning at Sirenusa has been widely used in the Virgin Islands.
Read Virgin Islands Daily News Article
The Virgin Islands Water and Power Authority (WAPA) has completed repairs to the two generators that went down over the weekend and caused island-wide power outages.
If you’re walking around in the bush, you’re bound to come into contact with the sticky webs that these spiders weave. The webs can be quite large and they can span distances of 20 feet or more. Wikipedia says that their bite is mildly toxic to humans, but in all my hundreds of encounters with them, getting their webs stuck all over me, I’ve never been bitten by one.
The golden orb is the only spider known to make its webs strong enough to be used for various kinds of bags and fishnets and, as you can see in this photo, an exquisite cape.
Message: Email from Pamela Holmes:
I had heard about Dana, the “person who takes care of the donkeys”, when we first came to St. John last January. As a wildlife rehabilitator in New England, I knew our paths would cross. My boyfriend and I came back in December for the winter and I soon met a lone male donkey with fresh scrapes above his eyes on the road to our villa in Coral Bay. I immediately called Dana. She called me right back and said that it was fine that he was by himself and that she would meet me to give me sulfa pills for his scrapes. She thanked me for looking after him and we quickly formed a friendship. I visited her farm and was amazed that she cared for numerous rescued animals by herself including eight donkeys, eight horses, a three-legged sheep, a goat, dozens of chickens and ducks, two dogs and three cats. All of their shelter, food, medications and rental of the farm are paid for out of her own pocket. She gives horse and donkey rides to help offset some of the costs as well as support herself.
She called me on Sunday evening, Feb. 1, saying she was going to check on a donkey that she had received a call about who appeared to be missing a hoof and was bleeding. She called me back shortly later saying it was pretty bad and she needed to get the bleeding to stop. I told her we would come and help. Upon arriving, we saw that the donkey had made its way on to someone’s driveway. The poor pregnant donkey was hobbling on three legs with her back left leg bleeding as the hoof was indeed missing. She possibly got it caught in a grate. Dana knew the donkey and the several babies she had already had. Luckily, the donkey let us put a halter on her and Dana immediately administered a tranquilizer. Dana had been texting with a local vet and getting advice. We tied her between two trees and two of us tried to hold her still as Dana started cleaning her wound and bandaged it as best as she could. It was already dark and we were using flashlights. The tranquilizer took effect and she laid down. We had to loosen her lead so her head was not being pulled and we made a makeshift pillow for her. Soon she started shaking all over. She appeared to be going into shock. We covered her with a couple of sheets. Once she seemed stable, Dana re-bandaged her to make sure it wasn’t too tight. Shortly before midnight, Dana was concerned that when the tranquilizer wore off, the donkey would get up and potentially get tangled in her lead. She went home and grabbed her own bedding, came back and laid it down on the ground. Dana spent the night with the donkey. I was blown away. Her dedication was beyond words. The next morning, she arranged for someone with a pickup truck to bring the donkey to her farm. It took five of us to get her into the truck and out of the truck. She was a trooper! Dana decided to name her Suzy Q and she is recovering in her own stall at the farm. Dana will keep her until her hoof grows back and she has the baby. She will then be looking for a home for her.
Dana told me that Suzie had a baby about 3 years ago who was found with her leg broken. Dana thought she probably lying down on the side of the road when a car ran over her leg. Baby Girl, as Dana named her, healed up after the vet, Laura, put pins secured by epoxy tubing. Dana sent her to St. Croix to a home that wanted donkeys to protect their sheep and goats.
Another one of Dana’s rescued donkeys is Stormy, who was hit by a car and is now a permanent resident if the corral.
Dana has been rescuing animals on St. John since 1992. For 23 years, she has been a one-woman show, giving 110% with a 55% budget. She is truly an animal spirit and is the only person who devotes as much attention to the wild donkeys on the island. Her rescued animals are always in need of hay, Home Depot gift cards, medical supplies, etc. If you would like to make a donation, sponsor Suzy Q or any other rescued animal, please visit her website for more information. Suzy Q and all the needy wild animals of St. John thank you!
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Police want parents to keep better tabs on their youngsters, and if children younger than 16 are out and unaccompanied by an adult after 10 p.m. they should expect to be detained by police…
By JOHN McCARTHY (Daily News Staff)
Published: February 9, 2015
The Ghost may not remember this but he has had some previous experience with this particular cactus fruit back in July of 2010. Check it out in this previous blog