Ghostly look for cherry trees

The Herald - - NEWS - ALAN SIMP­SON

THEY are the “ghostly” forests of cob­webbed trees whose spec­tre haunts wood­lands through­out Europe.

Now the sin­is­ter sight of cherry trees draped in eerie webs is tak­ing hold in Scot­land after the Beast From The East Siberian storm and re­cent heat­wave cre­ated per­fect con­di­tions for the phe­nom­e­non.

Huge num­bers of bird cherry er­mine moth cater­pil­lars have cre­ated the spec­tre in wood­lands across the coun­try as they spin elab­o­rate webs to pro­tect them from preda­tors.

They feed on bird cherry trees, which are found across Europe, and when they emerge fully grown, they be­come dis­tinc­tive white moths with five rows of black dots.

The lar­vae, which are about an inch long, make large com­mu­nal sil­very webs for pro­tec­tion and then feast on the sur­round­ing leaves, strip­ping the trees bare.

There are eight species of er­mine moths in this coun­try and 2,400 species of moths in the Bri­tish Isles and they usu­ally pu­pate into adult moths in July or Au­gust. Ge­orge An­der­son, of the Wood­land Trust Scot­land, said: “Ev­ery few years this species ex­plodes in num­bers and they strip the host tree of its leaves.

“Trees nor­mally re­cover the fol­low­ing year so it is not as dras­tic as it looks.

“It does look very sin­is­ter as they drape en­tire trees in their silk”.

The Trust has been re­ceiv­ing many re­ports of the ghostly look­ing trees in re­cent days, with wor­ried ob­servers ex­press­ing alarm at the sight of them be­ing stripped.

It has taken calls about out­breaks at For­monthills in Glen­rothes and at its own Ge­ordie’s Wood at Glen Devon with the species en­joy­ing a bumper year across many parts of the coun­try.

The bird cherry moth, Latin name Yponomeuta evonymella, has a max­i­mum wing­span of less than an inch and is found all over Europe.

But when it comes to spin­ning elab­o­rate webs, no crea­ture can match the power of er­mine moth cater­pil­lars. The be­hav­iour is called “tent­ing” and only some species are able to man­age it.

By work­ing to­gether, they are able to con­ceal them­selves in a pro­tec­tive blan­ket that works like a giant in­vis­i­bil­ity cloak, con­fus­ing birds and other preda­tors.

As the er­mines move from tree to tree, they have to cover their tracks and so they keep their pro­tec­tion with them. Over time ev­ery­thing in their path, from cars, to street signs, to grass, be­comes shrouded in white, a scene which has been nick­named the “walk of ghosts”.

One the­ory sug­gests that the su­per-webs form when mul­ti­ple fe­males lay their eggs on the same plant in ar­eas where food is scarce, such as hous­ing de­vel­op­ments.

Other ex­perts sug­gest that cli­mate change is hav­ing an im­pact as the eggs do bet­ter over warm and damp win­ters.

Ex­perts be­lieve the storm that swept in from Siberia ear­lier this year, and was fol­lowed shortly after by a pro­longed heat­wave, has pro­vided per­fect con­di­tions for the moths, while killing off their par­a­sitic preda­tors.

Tom Prescott, se­nior con­ser­va­tion of­fi­cer at But­ter­fly Con­ser­va­tion Scot­land, said: “They are tar­geted by par­a­sitic wasps and flies who en­ter their bod­ies and hatch out when the moths should and kill them off. It’s why they make this in­cred­i­ble web, they hope to keep the par­a­sites and preda­tors out.

“We don’t know for sure but the cold spell could have hit the par­a­sites num­bers while the re­cent warm spell has made it great for the cater­pil­lars, one minute it was grey and over­cast and the spring and sum­mer both seemed to ap­pear at once.”

It does look sin­is­ter as they drape en­tire trees in their silk

Pic­ture: Ge­of­frey Robin­son/rex/shut­ter­stock

„ Ghost-like trees cov­ered in the white webs.

Pic­ture: Mark Par­sons

„ There are huge num­bers of bird-cherry Er­mine moths this year.

Pic­ture: But­ter­fly Con­ser­va­tion

„ Trees are stripped bare but usu­ally re­cover the fol­low­ing year.

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