If you were to walk down West street in Newport located in the Isle of Wight this morning in the United Kingdom, you may notice signs up warning people to stay in their cars and not walk around a small picket fenced area nestled among the contemporary ivory houses. Along with that you may notice that very few people venture outside their doors without protective suits making them look like Hazmat crew members. And you may also notice the millions of caterpillars crawling slowly from the thicket hidden behind four sections of wall that have hatched for spring. And these caterpillars could be deadly.
The small creatures are known as the Brown Moth Caterpillar. Normally they don’t reproduce in such large numbers in populated areas, but an incredibly populous nest of the creatures broke out these past two weeks. The most fearful feature of the Brown Moth Caterpillar, or Euproctis Chrysorrhoea is the hundreds of long hairs that the insects have growing along their backs. If touched, these can produce severe allergic reactions in many humans, and if inhaled they can cause severe asthma attacks or even death. A few residents on West Street who have encountered the insects have been rushed to the hospital for asthma related attacks, some so severe that even inhalers did not help them. Experts on the insect say they were lucky. “I had an asthma attack that was so severe I thought I was having a stroke and had to go to hospital.” Mr. Fremont, who lives on the street infested with the brown caterpillars told reporters, “My hobby is my garden, but now I’m cooped up and I have no place to go.” Mr. Fremont was released from the hospital after the asthma attack he was suffering was treated and confirmed to have been caused by the inhalation of a single caterpillar hair. Doctors say it could have been a lot worse.
And the ravenous caterpillars are not only having an effect on the residents, who are afraid to walk outside, but also the trees in which they were nesting. Since the infestation, they have been completely stripped, now barren of leaves and likely to die without any means of collecting sunlight. And with no more food, suddenly the Brown Moth Caterpillars are dropping from trees and crawling over fences in an attempt to find food.
But not all residents are completely isolated by this mysterious invasion. Some have taken to purchasing suits that block their airways and cover their bodies in a thin sheet that will protect their clothing from tracking the hairs as they tend their gardens, feed livestock, and maintain the outside. These hazard suits are all that stand between their airways and the strange invaders.
So how did so many caterpillars come into such a populated place in such a short period of time? The nest was secluded entirely by four fences, and natural predators were unable to keep up with the massive boom when temperatures suddenly rose in the springtime. And with no one to see the progress of the nests, no one knew to maintain them.