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Ermine Larval Webbing

26/05/2010

Some of the hedges of counties Cork & Tipperary have taken on a ghoulish appearance. The larvae or caterpillars of an ermine

moth normally spin a small web around some leaves of its food-plant spindle (Euonymus europaeus). In this case the web covers up to 15 meter stretches of hedgerow composed of beech, hawthorn, ivy and of course spindle. The hedge is wrapped from the ground, over the top and down the far side. It's as though the whole hedge is treated as a single spindle plant. Some sections of the hedge are stripped totally of leaves leaving bare branches. Sightings have been reported from Ballintotis and Mogeely Co. Cork and Fethard, Co Tipperary.

So what species of ermine moth is this? According to moth expert Ken Bond of University College Cork, it is very likely to be Yponpmeuta cagnagella but for absolute certainty the caterpillars need to be examined closely and then the resulting pupae allowed to reach adulthood for a close examination of the adult moth.

School children at Ballintotis were treated to a talk on the moth and other wildlife in the area by local wildlife expert Pat Smiddy. One could only think of the old 'hedge schools' as the children gathered around the webbed hedge to have a closer look. The questions from the budding young scientists were a treat to hear. Do they have enemies? How do they make the web? Do flies get caught in the web? How long before they become adults? How long will the web last? Will they come back next year? Wonderful questions! They once again illustrated to me how innately scientific children (humans) are.

Ireland's biodiversity experts need to get out to Irish schools and meet children; they are pushing on an open door!

Click here for more photographs on Flickr

Click here for more information on Ermine moths on Wikipedia

Text and Photos copyright Paul Whelan, Biology.ie, 2010.