March of the zombie caterpillars
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.