The ermine moths 'ghost trees' causing a stir in Bromsgrove and Alcester - The Redditch Standard

The ermine moths 'ghost trees' causing a stir in Bromsgrove and Alcester

Redditch Editorial 22nd May, 2024   0

THIS NATURAL phenomenon has been causing a stir in Bromsgrove and Alcester.

The Standard was contacted by Bob Hill from Hanbury Road. near Shaw Lane in Stoke Prior, whose tree in his garden and nearby hedges opposite St Michael and All Angels Church had been covered in the webs of spindle ermine moth caterpillars.

Such has been the visual impact that drivers have been stopping their cars to get out and take photographs of the ghostly white sight.

Bob said: “People can’t believe what they are seeing and I have never seen anything like this in my life. It really is an unbelievable sight.”

And in Oversley Green, Alcester, another ermine moth web has also been turning trees white.

The tree in Oversley Green, Alcester. Picture by Derek Willis. s

People have been posting their pictures on the Alcester News Facebook page.

The Worcestershire Wildlife Trust said the spindle ermine moth had always been present in the county but numbers varied from year to year, explaining why their vast webs are more visible.

A trust spokesperson said they liked to spindle in open sunny unshaded sites often along roadsides which explained why rod users saw them.

“Despite the vast webs covering the spindle, the spindle trees and shrubs usually recover and is covered in leaf again later in the year.

“Spindle trees and shrubs, where the moths are largely found, are not particularly common.”

Picture by Bob Hill. s

He added they existed in 10km2 blocks across Worcestershire (a method used for biological recording) but were more common in neutral and calcareous grassland areas in the south and west of the UK.

He urged anyone who saw spindle trees covered in ermine moth webs to email Worcestershire Biological Records Centre at [email protected] with their pictures.

A spokesperson for the Warwickshire Wildlife Trust, which covers Alcester, said the ermine moth family contained several hundred species around the world, although only eight were found in the UK.

“Ermine moth caterpillars go through population booms and then declines year to year.

“Like all caterpillars they can make a hungry snack for birds and other predators and as a result they need a defence mechanism.

“In the case of the Ermine moth, their defence mechanism is safety in numbers and the creation of a web that protects them.”

The caterpillars creating their magic. Picture by Marcus Mingins 2124001MMR1

He added they spun the web on a host plant to enable them to safely munch away at the leaves without being eaten themselves.

“It’s not in their interest to kill the host plant, so whilst it can often look dramatic, moths tend to choose a new host plant to lay eggs on each year, and the following the year the caterpillars emerge somewhere else.

“The webs disintegrate in time and the host plant recovers after the caterpillars have finished eating.”

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