Sunday, February 12, 2012

Munching moth is threat to trees

Rare insects have been discovered munching their way through – and killing – trees at a nature reserve.
Lunar hornet moths, which resemble hornets and have a wingspan of up to 4cm, have been found burrowing into willows at Dishley Pool, in Loughborough.
Wildlife experts from Charnwood Borough Council, which owns the reserve off Derby Road, noticed bore holes in the willows about three weeks ago and have had to cut down some 40 infected trees.
Council wildlife officer Mark Graham said it was initially thought they were Asian long-horn beetles, which have killed millions of trees in America.
He said: "We were very worried it may be them and we thought they might have arrived at a nearby industrial estate on pallets that come in from all over the world.
"We dug out a couple of the larvae and sent them off to the Forestry Commission for tests.
"When the results came back there was a huge sigh of relief.
"Lunar hornet moths present nowhere near as large a threat to the wider tree population.
"They like willows but are unlikely to kill off the larger ones."
There are 200 trees remaining and it is estimated there could be four to six caterpillar-like pupas feeding on the core of those which have been affected. In the spring the pupae will hatch into the hornet-like moths.
Mr Graham said although the moths were native to the UK he had only seen one in Charnwood before.
He added: "This moth is not a common insect and sightings are unusual.
"They mimic animals and look like hornets to keep away birds which might eat them.
"A hornet sting is very nasty indeed and could kill a bird.
"For anyone who would like to catch a glimpse of the moths, July will be the ideal time as the fully grown adults will be emerging from their host trees, presenting a fascinating insight into these unusual insects."
Councillor Hilary Fryer, the council's cabinet member for open spaces, said: "We take enormous pride in our public spaces in Charnwood and it is fantastic that we employ experts like Mark whose eagle eyes helped spot this opportunity."
The pool, also home to several species of dragonfly and damselfly, is open to the public.

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