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Baculovirus drives caterpillars on a “death march”

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Caterpillars turned into ‘exploding zombies’ by bug

Caterpillar skinImage copyright Dr Chris Miller
Image caption Dr Miller said he found small scraps of caterpillar skin on branches

Caterpillars are being killed by a bug which turns them into “exploding zombies”, a wildlife expert has said.

Lancashire, Manchester and North Merseyside Wildlife Trust said the skins of insects have been found on Winmarleigh Moss, near Garstang.

The baculovirus drives caterpillars on a “death march” to the top of plants, then when it dies the bug bursts out to seek other victims.

The trust’s Dr Chris Miller said it was “gruesome – like a zombie horror film”.

CaterpillarImage copyright Anne Burgess
Image caption Dr Miller said it was really unusual seeing caterpillars high up

Dr Miller was carrying out a butterfly survey on Winmarleigh Moss when he noticed a caterpillar hanging from the end of a branch of a small bush.

He then saw another one hanging from a tall blade of grass.

“Both were dead but otherwise intact,” he said.

Dr Miller also noticed “small scraps of caterpillar skin” on other branches he checked.

He said research is showing that the baculovirus affects the way the “zombie” insects respond to light, “making them climb to higher and more dangerous places and when they get there they die”.

“It is really unusual seeing caterpillars high up as they can be eaten by birds.

“This is a caterpillar of the oak eggar moth which eats heather and bilberry so it is normally hidden in the undergrowth, not at the top of plants.”

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Oak eggar mothsImage copyright Alan Prics
Image caption Oak eggar moths have an “acorn-like cocoon”

Oak eggar moths

  • They are named oak eggar because of their “acorn-like cocoon”
  • They grow into reddish brown moths
  • Males fly during the day

Source: Lancashire, Manchester and North Merseyside Wildlife Trust

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