Last Monday, February 27, the kindergarteners, including my daughter, arrived in school side-stepping from branches covered with til-as and shrieking at their sight. Til-as, or wholly bear caterpillar, is thought to cause itchiness on human skin, and can cause severe allergies that may lead to death.
The little creatures have increased and have been devouring the leaves of our ilang-ilang trees which are now leaf-less. The wind picks them up and deposits them on the walls and floors of our classrooms and office and kitchen.
Luckily, these til-as are not the itchy kind as some of us adults accidentally discovered when a til-as inadvertently crept on our arms or legs.
So when one of our kindergarten nurturers picked up a til-as on the kindergarten floor and placed it outside, my observant daughter copied her when she went to our office. “I have a pet,” she said in Bisaya while cupping the til-as in her little hands. She found 3 more til-as and put them all on her palm.
I wanted to scream and tell her to drop the til-as but knowing how important it is for the adults to keep calm in situations like these, I struggled to keep my cool instead.
My daughter’s classmates surrounded her and inspected the til-as with great interest. Seeing the til-as was quite harmless, the children’s fear transformed into a keen curiousity for the tiny animal.
Today most of our Tuburan children have come to like the til-as so much that during outdoor free play they go til-as hunting in the bushes. The children feed the til-as they find just like they would any pet cat or dog – or feed the til-as to their pet spiders!