March of the zom­bie cater­pil­lars

The Week Middle East - - News -

Bri­tish cater­pil­lars are be­ing killed by a “zom­bie virus” that causes them to march to­wards the Sun, be­fore ex­plod­ing. Wildlife ex­perts say the “bac­ulovirus” over­rides the cater­pil­lars’ nat­u­ral in­stinct to hide in un­der­growth, where they are safe from preda­tors, lead­ing them to crawl to­wards the top of host plants or trees. They then die and their bod­ies liquify – be­fore burst­ing open in a shower of con­ta­gious goo that spreads the virus. The popped re­mains of cater­pil­lars of the oak eggar moth – a com­mon Bri­tish va­ri­ety – have been found in Win­mar­leigh Moss, near Garstang, Lan­cashire, and across the West Pen­nine Moors, lit­ter­ing the heather and bil­berry plants on which they feed. “It’s like a zom­bie hor­ror film,” Dr Chris Miller, of The Wildlife Trust for Lan­cashire, Manch­ester and North Mersey­side, told the Daily Mail.

Ex­perts says the virus is very rare in Bri­tain and that in­fes­ta­tions nor­mally flour­ish in small ar­eas be­fore quickly dy­ing out. But a Wildlife Trust spokesman called for vig­i­lance. “We ask ev­ery­one who sees cater­pil­lars, or snails for that mat­ter, high up on leaves to re­port it to us.” There is grow­ing con­cern about the fate of the UK’s but­ter­fly pop­u­la­tion, with de­clin­ing num­bers recorded for 70% of na­tive species last year.

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