Lifestyle & Belief

Bali's creepy caterpillar problem


A farmer shows caterpillars crawling over his hand in Denpasar, on the Indonesian resort island of Bali on April 13, 2011. Swarms of caterpillars which can cause skin rashes have invaded the Indonesian holiday island of Bali, but tourist areas have not been affected so far.


Sonny Tumbelaka

Bali just can't catch a break.

First it was terrorism. Then natural disaster, followed by rabid dogs and mountains of trash.

And yet, somehow, Indonesia's tiny island paradise remains a top tourist attraction. AFP reports that 2.5 million overseas tourists are expected to visit Balie in 2011, up from 2.3 million in 2010.

But that was before throngs of rash-inducing caterpillars decided to pay a visit to this island of more than 3 million.

For the last couple weeks, swarms of the hairy insects have been invading fruit farms — mainly mango plantations — and even peoples' homes. If touched alive, the caterpillars can cause a skin rash.

“The caterpillars are very disturbing. They crawl into the house and make our skin itch for days. They have long hairs,” resident Nurhayati told the Jakarta Globe.

Some trees are reported to have up to 1,000 caterpillars on them, making them very difficult to eradicate.

Meanwhile, Balinese authorities have urged villagers to make lemonade from lemons, as it were. So long as they're not going anywhere, said Bali's agriculture department head Made Putra Suryawan, why not throw the little critters in a fry pan and whip up a quick snack, reports the Bali Times.

“They’re really delicious and tasty,” Made Putra Suryawan said.

But might there be a silver lining to this plague of biblical proportions?

According to the Jakarta Post, the caterpillars in at least one area are actually golden silkworms, or Crinicula trifenestrata — a rare species of caterpillar whose cocoons produce valuable golden silk floss.

Some villagers changed their tune on the caterpillars — and even started nurturing the insects — once they learned that 1 kilogram of golden silkworm cocoons could sell for about $23.

Once again, it appears that Bali is looking to make the best of a bad scene.