As farmers and authorities mount a struggle against the caterpillars that have attacked Bali, some villagers in Karangasem say they have struck gold amid the insect onslaught.
Researchers sent to Giok hamlet in to identify and assist the villagers in destroying the caterpillars said
they have confirmed that Giok had been infested by the golden silkworm (Crinicula trifenestrata) — a rare species of caterpillar whose cocoons produce valuable golden silk floss.
“We have confirmed that the caterpillar population in Tumbu is comprised of golden silkworms. A similar population of golden silkworms has also been found attacking the avocado plantations of Susuan village,” Bali Agriculture and Plantation Agency head Made Putra Suryawan said on Saturday.
Unsurprisingly, the discovery radically changed the way local villagers treated the caterpillars.
Caterpillars have gone from pests to pets overnight, according to the researchers, with several local farmers mulling the idea of cultivating silkworms on a large scale.
“Now the local farmers in those villages are practically nurturing the caterpillars,” Suryawan said.
He said that 1 kilogram of golden silkworm cocoons could command a price of Rp 200,000 (US$23).
“One kilogram is about 400 cocoons. I hope that the farmers can develop this into an industry that produces natural golden silk floss,” he added.
The caterpillars were first detected on Bali two weeks ago and have since spread to every city and regency of the resort isle.
Based on the agency’s laboratory tests, the caterpillars in Buleleng and Gianyar came from the Lymantriidae and Amatidae families, while caterpillars from the Saturniidae family were found in Karangasem and caterpillars from the Limacodidae family were discovered in Nusa Penida.
Lymantriidae caterpillars were moths, according to scientists. Caterpillars of these species have bristles and hairy projections, which might irritate people’s skin.
Amatidae are widespread in tropical regions and have flat lobes covered with short hairs.
Saturniidae caterpillars are among the largest and most spectacular of moths.
The provincial health agency has distributed itching medications to Puskesmas community health centers throughout the island.
“People who suffer from skin rashes and itching should seek medical treatments at health centers,” Bali Health Agency head I Nyoman Sutedja said.
Treatment and medications would be given free to local residents under the province’s Bali Mandara Health Program, which provides a wide range of free healthcare services to local residents with identification cards, he added.