Tuesday, 28 May 2019

Small Ermines

Beginning in the spring, certain bushes here start being covered with what looks like rather thick spiders web and the bushes are denuded of all leaves. This is the work of several species of small ermine moth caterpillars. They live in colonies of dozens of little caterpillars on their host plants and spin the webs to protect themselves from predators. The one in the picture is on blackthorn Prunus spinosa, so I know it is the Orchard Ermine Yponomeuta padella, which attacks Prunus spp fruit trees (plums and cherries). Others are specific to apples (I have those in the orchard).

Photograph Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.
You can see some of the caterpillars top right inside the web.

The ones that really gain people's attention though are those which attack Spindle Euonymus europaea. Spindle often self-seeds along hedges and every year there are dramatic photos on social media of entire hedges covered in caterpillar web.

The caterpillars' stripping of these bushes looks catastrophic, but in fact they don't kill their hosts. The bush looks tatty for a while, but normally goes on to grow more leaves, then flower and fruit in the normal way. The adult moths are small and narrow, white with black pin dots.


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