Ghostly Invasion

17 Jun

Invasion of the Ermine Moth Caterpillar

Ghostly images have formed around the ‘Bird Cherry Trees’ in Jesus Green Park, Cambridge. Is this a alien or supernatural occurrence?

NO: this is down to a creature that only measures less than 1” (2.5cm) in length. We are talking about the Ermine Moth Caterpillar. This has stripped the barks of the Bird Cherry Tree, and then leaving a ghostly white silk webbing structure.

Caterpillars in a Cambridge Park 3

[Picture from – BBC News Cambridge]

These native caterpillars have taken a liking to the avenue of bird cherry tree in this park.

Guy Belcher, nature conservation officer at the city council, said: “They strip the trees and it does look ghostly and very dramatic.

“However, the trees grow back and are fine. It’s a wonder of nature.”

He said it was likely there were hundreds of thousands of the pale, creamy-yellow caterpillars, each measuring just under 1in (2.5cm) in length.

 ‘Micro-moths’

Mr. Belcher continued by saying: “They are host-specific, and only like the bird cherry tree. The ones on Jesus Green have obviously proved favorable to them”.

“This year is obviously good for them, for whatever reason, and there’s a big infestation.”

The silk webs surrounding the trunks and branches were the “combined effort of many, many caterpillars”, he said.

“They form a protective web over the tree on which they’re feeding to try and protect themselves from birds and parasitic wasps.

“The caterpillars are actually a fantastic food source for other creatures in the park.”

Mr. Belcher said past infestations had been monitored and the trees were not harmed.

“It’s not damaging the tree, so we just let nature take its course,” he added.

He said the creatures were nearing the end of the caterpillar stage and would soon pupate into a “tiny micro-moth” – white with black spots – hence the name ermine moth.

[Sourced from News Cambridge]

Cambridge News:

An infestation of caterpillars has engulfed trees on Cambridge’s Jesus Green, covering them in a silvery web.

Commuters and residents have been taking pictures of the mysterious gossamer covering.

Tree experts have identified bird-cherry ermine moth caterpillars but have never seen such an extreme form of infestation before.

Student Debbie Cross, of Corona Road, West Chesterton,  has taken pictures of the webs which have intrigued her since she first saw them last week.

The 35-year-old said: “I think I was probably one of the first people to see this. They came in quickly overnight.

“From walking home the evening before and walking past next morning at 5am the trees were covered in what looked like cotton wool.

“It was quite alarming when I saw the trees. I thought it was spiders with webs.”

Some residents raised concern about the damage the caterpillars are doing to the trees lining a path near the public toilets.

Researcher Charlotte Tulinius, of Searle Street, Arbury, said: “I think it would be great if there was some biological warfare, like a green way of doing it.

“It would be too difficult to spray a whole park full of trees. It would be great if they could get beetles in to stop them or something.

“It would be sad if the trees were stripped but it is nature.”

Andrew Halstead, principal entomologist for the Royal Horticultural Society,  said the caterpillars may be a small ermine moth.

He said: “The feeding areas where the caterpillars eat are covered in silk webbing where they also live. You are seeing the full extent of the damage now as they feed; the next stage is they pupate into adult moths in July or August.

“The impact on the plant is quite a setback if it has been stripped but it will survive and re-grow.”

He said the moths are not harmful to humans.

Nature conservation officer Guy Belcher, of Cambridge City Council, assessed the infestation after being contacted by the News.

He said: “They are bird-cherry ermine moths which spin a silken web in trees and live in little colonies.  I have never seen anything like this before.”

CITtree

[Picture from – Cambridge News)

6563_Maarten_Jacobs_-_White_Ermine_-_77__decline_over_35_years

The White Ermine Moth [Spilosoma Lubricipede] [Maarten Jacobs]

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