The title Exploding Zombie Caterpillars may sound to have a perfect theatrical plot of a post-apocalyptic era but that’s far from being anything close to a movie plot. They are very much real and represent the sheer brilliance of Mother Nature when it comes to survival and species propagation.
Who would have thought that a microscopic virus strand can actually convert wannabe butterflies into zombies that walk up the tree tops to be only roasted and blasted by the mighty sun? Guess what? While we definitely don’t want zombie caterpillar goo dropping on our shoulders while casually strolling in the garden, England is facing that exact same challenge!
What Really Are Exploding Zombie Caterpillars?
We don’t really like viruses for they bring untold miseries to us time and again. Now the caterpillars have enlisted this viruses as their enemies too. But that’s all they can do. Just like Bhutan rides on India’s shoulders for protection, these caterpillars – the butterfly wannabes are riding on our shoulders for a possible solution.
Okay enough of beating around the bush. Coming to the actual story, Dr. Chris Miller, who is the Wildlife Trust’s mosslands manager for North Merseyside, Manchester and Lancashire was on a survey round on large heath butterfly. He was busy with the survey at Winmarleigh Moss. It was during the survey that he noticed an Oak Eggar Moth caterpillar hanging from a branch end of a small bush and minutes later he notice another one hanging on a tall grass blade. He scrutinized the two and found that the two were dead, very dead but they were still intact.
He went on looking and then started finding out bits and pieces of caterpillar skin here and there on various branches. Things were really gross and something just didn’t add up. These caterpillars are known for hiding from birds and seek darkness. So, they stay underneath the leaves. The ones he saw were out in the open and dead.
Miller found that these fuzzy caterpillars became victim of a very sinister virus. Known as baculovirus, this rare virus has been pretty well-studied by medical sciences. This virus, says Miller, enters the caterpillars and make it all the way up to their brains. Once the virus reaches the brain, it eats away the brain and converts the caterpillars into zombies.
But Why Exploding Zombie Caterpillar? Why Not Just Zombie Caterpillars?
The behavior of the caterpillars change once the virus starts eating their brain. They, those who love dark places away from the sight of birds, just walk out in the open or climb tree tops and get into direct sunlight. There, they are either spotted by birds and become meal or they just get cooked so much in sunlight that they simply explode.
The exploding guys just fall on the leaves that the uninfected caterpillars eat. The cycle then repeats. This virus also spreads via bird droppings. They just make it out alive from the bird butt and wait for other innocent fuzzy victims doomed to be zombified through the very food they depend on for survival. Yes, you get it right! The bird droppings that fall on the leaves of the trees allow the virus to cover the leaves and then infect those caterpillars that thrive on those leaves.
Is the Baculovirus a Big Threat?
Definitely for the fuzzy butterfly wannabes but not much for humans. This virus cannot reach far because they die very quickly before spreading. Currently there is no cure for this virus and their are there any preventive measures. However, researchers are doing their jobs and trying to figure out how to solve the problem. The Oak Eggar Moth is very common in Europe and UK but this virus can seriously threaten the very existence of this moth species.
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