Meet the bird-cherry ermine moth. These little ones pack a punch, and can transform an ordinary neighborhood into something right out of a fantasy horror movie in no time.
Native to Europe, these moths like to make their homes in bird-cherry trees, in case you were wondering about the name. The “ermine” bit comes from the white, cobweb-like silk they produce to make cocoons for themselves–and for everything around them (like a fur coat for trees but gross).
An adult, with stylish black spots.
When they nest, the larvae coat an entire tree (or bush, or hedgerow, or building, or anything) with layers of gauzy white silk, making everything look ghostly and white. While the silk doesn”t do any harm to human-made objects, it can be damaging to plants, causing them to lose their leaves.
In the foreground, you can see healthy, uninfested trees. The infested ones are shrouded in white behind them. It”s all very fitting for a cemetery, but this isn”t healthy and can cause problems for the trees down the line.
Up close, the trees look completely white. That”s actually a layer of silk, and the specks you see are the moth caterpillars themselves. The caterpillars build communal nests and cocoons for safety, using whatever is around as the foundation.
This year, ermine moths in England have swathed several locations in their silk, turning once-green areas white. One location is the Sutton Road Cemetery in Essex, where the silk covered tombstones and trees surprise visitors. While the white silk might be pretty in an ethereal, otherworldly way, it usually brings hundreds of bugs in its wake. It can get really gross really quickly if you”re squeamish.
Many people mistook the phenomenon for a frost at first, and you can see why.
(via The Guardian, The Daily Mail, Telegraph)
While the caterpillars cause damage to the trees by eating the leaves, the trees can usually recover from the infestation by the following year. Luckily, ermine moth infestations aren”t a yearly occurrence. Right now, the plan is simply to leave them where they are, and let nature take its course.