'Killer' caterpillar invasion hits Queensland


THE SUNSHINE Coast could be in the grip of a ‘killer’ caterpillar invasion, with sightings of masses of hairy caterpillars reported.

Sightings have been reported via social media today with a long procession of the bugs spotted in Noosaville.

A species of the caterpillars, known as processionary caterpillars, which are a subspecies of the bag-shelter moth, pose a threat to horses with mares able to ingest them as they pupate in soil.

Doing so can lead to miscarriages and birth defects in foals and they are also know to make dogs sick, the Sunshine Coast Daily reported.

They can also cause skin irritations like dermatitis, itching, swelling and burning sensations in humans who come into contact with the caterpillars which are also known as itchy grubs.

Bundaberg has previously battled a plague of the caterpillars with advice given to residents to avoid planting trees that attract the bag-shelter moth, to avoid the pupation in the soil.

The bugs have also been found to cause breathing difficulties, swelling in the throat and even conjunctivitis if the hairs of the caterpillar are inhaled.

A Department of Agriculture and Fisheries spokesman said hairy caterpillars were a native species and their numbers fluctuated seasonally.

He said they were not a pest dealt with by the Department.

Scientific Pest Management owner and AEPMA member, Brett Johnstone said he was unable to give a conclusive identification of the species with the photos provided.

He tipped the weather to be a key factor in why they were on the move in such vast numbers.

Mr Johnstone said significant wet weather often left water pooling at the base of trees, where the caterpillars gathered in droves, and that sent the caterpillars scattering looking for shelter.

He said they usually didn’t become active until around September, but thought the wet weather coupled with the heat and humidity may have sent them through another life cycle and drawn them out earlier.

Mr Johnstone said he hadn’t come across them too often in his 16 years spent in the pest control industry.

He said they could be killed with insecticide, but it was usually not necessary as they normally “just move on”.

He said it was unusual for them to get into houses as they were so slow-moving.

In 2007 a white-cedar moth outbreak stunned Kawana Island residents.

Then-resident Tony Ball told the Daily he’d found 5000 or more of the hairy caterpillars outside their home.

It took multiple efforts to rid the area of the caterpillars and Mr Ball was left with a rash for over a week for his removal efforts.

They destroyed two trees on a nearby vacant block before a neighbour doused the bugs in poison.

Edited article and images from Townsville Bulletin (23 March 2018)

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