Enormous caterpillar ‘webs’ cover trees and hedgerow in Elstow

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Photo credit: Kirsty King

A species of moth caterpillars have set up home in around 100ft of trees and hedgerow in Elstow, creating a ghostly, but totally harmless, spectacle.

The blanket of caterpillar webs is the work of ermine moth caterpillars, which create the webs to protect themselves against predators.

The phenomenon was captured by local resident, Kirsty King, who told the Bedford Independent, “I’ve driven up that road nearly every day for the last 20 years and it’s a first for me.”

A similar sight was spotted in Bawtry in South Yorkshire, and features on the BBC News website.

According to the Butterfly Conservation charity website, “These striking and obvious webs hide hundreds and sometimes tens of thousands of caterpillars of a group of moths called the Small Ermine moths.

Ermine moth caterpillars (photo credit: Michelle Jovic)

“…occasionally whole trees can be covered by their webs, the leaves stripped bare giving the tree an eerie appearance. Sometimes these webs are so extensive that they can cover nearby objects such as benches, bicycles and gravestones.”

Quoted on the BBC News website, Dr Phil Sterling, from the charity, said the number of ermine moth caterpillars “get enormous every now and then” and there would be tens of thousands in the hedge.

He said there was “no danger, no threat” and it was merely done “to avoid predation”.

The webs will slowly disappear over the summer and the adult moths, which are white or greyish with small black dots – hence the ‘ermine’ name – will fly later in the summer.

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