Insects of the Caribbean

Some are familiar, others come with a new sting.

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Caribbean Insects
The Good, The Bad, The Ugly

If you wear repellent and socks--and watch where you sit and walk, Caribbean insects are rarely a problem.

With one exception: Mosquitoes, which tend to be pesky only at lower altitudes around water.

Fortunately, much of the best rainforest walking and hiking is at altitude, where mosquitoes are scarce.

Tarantula: Greatly feared because of its hairy looks and reputation, its bite usually is no worse than that of a bee sting. Tarantulas are often found near banana groves. Some forage at night, others during the day.

Orb Weavers: Beautifully colored spiders that weave some of the larger webs, usually hanging between trees. This includes the famed black widow. So is the golden silk spider, which weaves webs as much as 2-3 feet across. The strength of their silk webs is so great that it's actually been used in the manufacture of fabrics.

Scorpions: These feed on spiders and other insects, usually at night. Human contact usually occurs when the scorpion, sleeping in a boot or under some rotted wood, is disturbed.

Centipedes: As distinguished from the harmless, worm-like millipede, the centipede legs are large with only one pair per segment. It is only the larger, foot-long centipede (Scolopendra dromorpha) that give a truly mean bite. The jaws of all centipedes have poison to paralyze their prey.

Killer bees: Found only in Trinidad and Tobago , islands closest to the South American continent. Far from true killers, this species which escaped from an experimental laboratory in Brazil is simply more aggressive and therefore more likely to sting than the domestic honey bee. Unless you are messing about with a bee's nest, you should have nothing to worry about.

Dragonflies: Most common are the skimmers found near water. These are differentiated from damselflies according to how they hold their wings when at rest. Dragonflies hold theirs horizontal; damselflies do it vertically, to the rear.

Termites: Most but not all Caribbean termites construct huge spherical nests in trees or on stumps and do not live on the ground. Termites usually forage at night, so the chance of seeing them at work is slim.

Leaf-cutting Parasol Ants: You'll probably see lots of these. They're constant workers, cutting bits of small leaves and carrying them back to their nest like a parasol. The leaves are not eaten by the ants but chewed up as a food for a fungus that grows in the underground chambers, which the ants feed on.

Army Ants: You can't mistake the mass of them streaming by. Just step out of the way and they won't bother you. One islander told me how army ants were kind enough to come and exterminate his house almost annually. He says the ants suddenly show up and, starting from the roof down, kill or chase away every bug in his house. The fellow leaves his home for a couple of hours, lets the army ants do their work, then returns to a clean, orderly house. The only problem: the cleaning schedule is erratic, and not always at the best of times, especially if he has company.

Spider Wasps: If you see something running on the ground flicking its wings, don't bother it. It's probably a spider wasp out looking for another tarantula with which to adorn its nest. Spider wasps can grow quite large, with a wing span of up to 3 inches.

Click Beetles: Like fireflies, they are bioluminescent, with two light producing organs on the sides of their thorax. They are called click beetles because of the sound they make to turn themselves right side up when overturned. Click beetles have the remarkable ability to snap a fingerlike spine on their thorax, something other beetles cannot do. Once on its back, a click beetle will keep trying until it finally rights itself. The beetles are sometimes captured and used for decorations at parties.

Beautiful ones, big ones, in pairs and flying alone, often surprise you on a rain forest path. Hundreds of different species of butterflies thrive throughout the Caribbean . Some are bright and colorful, others camouflaged. On a hike, they are always a joy to see. These butterflies may be darker and more vivid than what you are accustomed to.

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