An invasion by millions of caterpillars has turned a graveyard into a spooky scene from a horror film.
Mourners at Sutton Road Cemetery in Southend-on-Sea, Essex, have been astounded by the phenomenon – with the caterpillars crawling along dozens of gravestones, benches and trees.
The bird cherry Ermine moth caterpillars, which have created web-like nests and left the graveyard with a ghostly white appearance, even hang from the trees on thin strands of their silken threads.
Julia Heath, 42, who was left stunned when she visited the graveyard to lay flowers, said: ‘It really is quite a sight – I don’t think I have ever seen anything quite like this before. It is not for the faint-hearted because the caterpillars look like maggots or worms which really could make your stomach turn. ‘But there is something quite beautiful too in the way they create the ghostly white webs that hang from the trees. It would be the perfect setting for a scene from a horror movie – it reminds me of Tim Burton films like Sleepy Hollow.’
Following a similar phenomenon at the cemetery this time three years ago – which was also reported by MailOnline – Southend Museum’s natural history curator Roger Payne had said the caterpillars would emerge as moths in July. The invasion is not the only of its kind seen this month. As reported last Thursday, a plague of the same bugs has covered pavements, walls and cars in Hampton, south-west London.
Today, Mr Payne told MailOnline: ‘Maybe they have received a bit of publicity recently and people are noticing them a bit more. ‘Sometimes you get really specific outbreaks and people notice. Often people see a tree covered in webbing and think that is unusual and could be spiders. They don’t really connect it with thousands and thousands of small caterpillars. ‘I don’t think the climate affects them very much. It just so happens that somebody long ago thought they would plant bird cherry trees at the cemetery – and this is an unlimited supply.
‘It’s probably a migrant moth that laid a few eggs there years ago. It’s not a common tree around here in the South. The only thing that knocks them back a bit are wasp parasites.
‘So that is the main way in which the population is controlled, because birds don’t seem to touch them – I suspect because they don’t taste very nice. The web does offer some sort of protection.’