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Saturday 24 August 2019

Retired postman appeals for help in identifying hordes of mystery 'caterpillars' that devoured 500 metres of hedge

Hungry for answers: John Joe Halpin with the bugs that ate his hedge. Photo: Seamus Farrelly
Hungry for answers: John Joe Halpin with the bugs that ate his hedge. Photo: Seamus Farrelly

Louise Walsh

They spun a mysterious 'misty' web, devoured 500 metres of hedging and then promptly disappeared without trace.

A Co Meath homeowner has appealed for help in identifying the culprits that have destroyed his whitethorn bushes.

Retired postman John Joe Halpin (82), from Killary, Lobinstown, said his garden has been overrun by 'millions' of tiny black caterpillar-type insects. And the only item on the rampagers' menu has been his whitethorn hedge.

He said passing motorists have stopped to stare at the denuded hedge, thinking he had scorched it with some type of spray. However, on closer inspection they see that it is completely covered in a spider-web type 'mist'.

"They are tiny black caterpillar-like insects and they weave webs over the bush. They only seem to target the whitethorn bushes, nothing else," he said.

"Indeed, they crossed my gate to get to more whitethorns on the other side.

"There were millions of them. The bushes were covered until all the leaves were eaten within two to three weeks. Then they just disappeared.

"A good few of them died but the others seem to have left. The strange thing is that none of the birds would eat them."

Local Fine Gael councillor Paddy Meade said the caterpillars have already munched their way through 500 metres of whitethorn in the area.

He said that people are now worried their hedges will be hit next.

"This must have been upsetting for John Joe as he takes pride in his perfectly manicured garden, hedges and verges," said Cllr Meade.

But the culprits may have been unmasked. A local ranger with the National Parks and Wildlife Service said: "These caterpillars appear to be ermine moth larvae which are native to Ireland. They will tend to spin webs to protect themselves from birds and wasps."

They were reported last month in Kilkeel, Co Down, where they stripped long sections of the hedgerow.

Irish Independent

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