The na­ture of things

White er­mine moth

Country Life Every Week - - Town & Country Notebook - Edited by Vic­to­ria Marston Il­lus­tra­tions by Bill Dono­hoe

MOTHS are at large in great numbers now; most have a be­nign pres­ence and, in­deed, a ben­e­fi­cial one, as they have a role in pol­li­na­tion while in search of nec­taryield­ing flow­ers. Some species are, how­ever, less wel­come, with their lar­vae hid­ing be­hind silken web­bing while they munch through fo­liage of their cho­sen plants. (Box-treemoth cater­pil­lars are es­pe­cially trou­ble­some in the South-east right now and dev­as­tate Buxus plants and hedges if not stopped in their tracks).

The most spec­tac­u­lar cre­ators of silken shrouds are er­mine moths, which, from now on and well into sum­mer, may cover sec­tions of shrubs, hedgerows or even whole trees in a ghostly, pro­tec­tive web­bing, un­der which there can be from hun­dreds to many thou­sands of cater­pil­lars. It’s a neat sur­vival strat­egy for the crit­ters, on the prin­ci­ple of safety in numbers.

Some er­mine species are spe­cial­ists, favour­ing cer­tain trees: the spin­dle er­mine goes for hawthorns and black­thorns and the bird­cherry er­mine feeds on the epony­mous tree species. Their host trees may be all but stripped of their fo­liage for a sea­son in a suc­cess­ful year for the moth; dam­age is un­likely to be last­ing, how­ever, and the silken tents break down rapidly once their use­ful­ness to the cater­pil­lars sub­sides. Adult er­mine moths are easy to iden­tify, hav­ing black spots on a white back­ground like cer­e­mo­nial er­mine robes. KBH

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