Caterpillars' giant web discovered in Thamesmead near Belmarsh Prison
RESEMBLING a gruesome horror movie prop, very hungry caterpillars have set up Thamesmead’s most popular web-site.
At twenty feet long and five feet wide, this blanket opposite Belmarsh Prison is the silk webbing left behind by caterpillars to protect them from predators.
National Trust ecologist Matthew Oates identified the web as an infestation of a reckless caterpillar which ‘eats itself out of house and home’ before becoming a moth.
He said: “It looks like larval workings of a tiny white moth called the Small Ermine Moth - aka the Orchard Ermine moth - which breeds on various shrubs, usually blackthorn and hawthorn.
“They have a fantastic time, infesting areas, stripping whole bushes and fully expressing themselves as gregarious caterpillars.
“They live beneath silk webbing that’s meant to protect them from predators and parasites.
“The caterpillars are harmless to us, but I reckon those bushes are stuffed.
“The ‘epidemics’ are sporadic and seasonal one-offs – the moth tends to eat itself out of house and home, and has to move on.
“It’s a boom and bust species, meaning that there probably won’t be any in that area next year.”
Mr Oates said the moths fly during August and lay eggs which produce the caterpillars which fed on the bush.
But there is no point in spraying, Mr Oates said, because the caterpillars are long gone and won’t be back.
He said: “Enjoy and marvel, this is not the end of the world.”
Bus driver Jane Gash, of Hartslock Drive in Thamesmead, said she thought she was ‘seeing things’ the first time she noticed the sticky structure.
Mrs Gash, 58, said: “It is not like a normal spider’s web. It is thicker and it covers a very vast area. I have never seen anything like it in all my life.
“My dad has never seen anything like it either and he is 93.
“It is quite a spectacular show, you can’t mistake it. It shows up like a sore thumb. It is incredible.”
Grandmother-of-two Sylvia Scott, 63, of Holly Hill Road in Belvedere said: “I was just driving through, dropping my husband off at work. It was just there, it was so huge.
“It was very sticky and strong – even snails could move up it. It was amazing.
“I have never seen anything like it. It is so big.”