An Unwelcome visitor

July 11th, 2014 Sections: Economy, Flora and Fauna, News
The American White Butterfly

The American White Butterfly

On Wednesday, all the news agencies [*] carried a story about an unwelcome visitor to Kyrgyzstan … an American, as it happens, but more of that later. 

All the stories were basically the same … obviously based on the same Press Release or a statement made at a Press Conference.  I presume it was the latter, as they showed signs of having been rewritten and not simply lifted verbatim.

The basic facts were:

  • The American White Butterfly has been discovered in the Chui oblast (in the Sokuluk region – covering some 40 hectares) and in 2 regions of Bishkek, (Pervomaiskaya and Sverdlovka – where some 256 infected hectares are identified).  (Just under 4500 hectares were inspected).

For the record: The American White Butterfly seems to be the Russian name for the Fall Webworm, (Hyphantria cunea is the Latin name).  Actually, this is a bit of a misnomer because, technically, it’s not a butterfly – it’s a moth.  It does, however, originate in North America- from Canada, through the United States and down to Mexico.

It’s a relatively large “butterfly”, Moth, with a wingspan of 4cm.

It’s a pest … during the caterpillar stage of its development it creates webbed nests on the limbs of the host trees and the larvae have a voracious appetite and can denude the tree of its foliage.  Otherwise, however, it thought not to cause harm to otherwise healthy trees.

However, having said that, the lack of leaves will weaken the tree and reduces its hardiness and ability to withstand the winter … as well as reducing the potential for the future production of fruit.  This also results in reduction of biodiversity, causing having a detrimental effect on the habitat of other species – both flora and fauna.

It is one the few insect pests to be “exported” from North America to the Rest of the world.

  • This is not the first time that the pest has been seen in Kyrgyzstan.  The first reported sighting of this pest in Kyrgyzstan was back in 2006.

For the record: It seems that the first such instance was when it appeared in Japan in 1945.  It reached Europe in 1949 when it was reported in Yugoslavia.  From there it seems to have established itself throughout Europe.  In the 1990s it started to penetrate into Central Asia … in Turkmenistan at the start of the 1990s; the Ferghana Valley of Uzbekistan in the mid 1990’s

  • The Butterfly attacks more than 250 species of trees and bushes.  Apparently, they particularly prefer mulberry, apple, pear, plum, quince, cherry, elderberry and walnut – many of which are found here in Kyrgyzstan.  The caterpillars are very voracious … just 8 or 10 nests in a tree can completely destroy the foliage but can also rob the tree of its harvest.

  For the record: it seems happy to feed on almost any deciduous tree and at least one source suggests that it has been recorded on 636 different species – not just 250!.

The adults don’t actually feed but concentrate on reproduction.  The damage is all caused by the larvae in the caterpillar stage.

In Northern regions, one generation appears each year – in warmer climes in the South two may appear.  Having overwintered in secluded places such as in cracks under the dead bark of it’s host tree, or the leaf mulch at the at the base of the trees, the pupae mature into adults which tend to be active at night, laying eggs on the underside of leaves – especially preferring the higher branches in the treetops.    The eggs are laid in clusters containing several hundred … covered in protective hair … and they hatch in about a week.

If the adults are basically white – hence the name, although they may also have some brown or black spots  – the caterpillars can be varied … basically shades of yellow and grey.   The hairs on the caterpillars can cause an allergic reaction in humans.

  • In addition to the Butterfly, infestations of Colorado Beetle were also discovered …  another visitor from the New World.

I remember, growing up as a youth, that posters suddenly appeared around town one year … portraying this distinctively yellow and black striped beetle.  Although I lived in a town, we were surrounded by rich, productive, farmland and the and the appearance of this pest seemed to set all the farmers abuzz with anxiety.  In my innocence, I thought “Hey, it’s just a bug … and it’s come from a long way away – Colorado’s not even on the Eastern seaboard”.  One day in school I made the mistake of passing a caustic remark – and it was “in passing” – … to be honest, I don’t really remember all the details, but I think I was probably, simply trying to be “humourous” … something like “shouldn’t we be welcoming them as tourists?”.  Well, the joke (if that’s what it was) fell flat … in my “audience” was probably the only real “farmer” I knew …

well, OK – he was, of course, just a schoolboy, but he lived on a farm – his father was the real farmer … and we had given him an appropriate nickname – something like Farmer Giles.

Now, Giles was normally a cheerful, easy going and sociable character … but not on this particular occasion as he “laid into” me, (quite justifiably I might add … now, with the benefit of hindsight), for my ignorance and insensitivity.

 At least there are no calls of “Yankee Go Home”.



[*] Among the reports, (they are all in Russian), were: 24.kgAkiPress; KGNews, Kirtag; the Kyrgyz Teleradio Corporation


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