Exploding 'zombie' caterpillars discovered in British countryside

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Caterpillars are being infected by a gruesome virus that makes them act like zombies and eventually causes them to explode.

Eviscerated corpses of the unfortunate insects have been found in the English countryside as wildlife experts urge people to report any sightings of the bizarre occurrence.

The caterpillars, infected by a micro-organism called baculovirus, are made to eat incessantly and climb to the top of trees – despite a survival impulse to stay close to the ground.

Once there, the virus bursts out of its host, landing on branches below to begin the process of infecting new victims.

“It’s like a zombie horror film,” said Dr Chris Miller, from The Wildlife Trust for Lancashire, Manchester and North Merseyside.

He said he was carrying a butterfly survey in Lancashire’s Winmarleigh Moss when he found dead caterpillars hanging in unusual locations, including on the branch of a small bush.

He added: “Whilst checking some other branches I noticed small scraps of caterpillar skin on a couple of branches suggesting the two I had seen where not the only ones to be affected.

“It’s pretty gruesome when you think about it.”

Research into the virus suggests that it alters the way the insects respond to light, causing them to climb upwards in a “zombie-like” way even though it is against their interests.

Dr Miller said: “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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