Most “zombie” viruses that affect insects are pretty horrific, and they almost always result in the death of the host insect, but it seems the oak eggar caterpillars afflicted with the baculovirus have it worst of all.
That’s because the baculovirus changes the caterpillar’s instinct to stay out of the sun, making them climb towards the sun until their exoskeleton disintegrates and they explode, spraying their virus-filled guts all over the forest.
Mosslands manager from the Wildlife Trust in Lancashire, Manchester and North Merseyside Dr. Chris Miller has been looking in to the exploding ‘pillar problem:
‘It’s like a zombie horror film. I was carrying out a large heath butterfly survey on Winmarleigh Moss and noticed a caterpillar hanging from the end of a branch of a small bush. Later on I saw another one hanging from a tall blade of grass – both were dead but otherwise intact.
Birds will often eat the zombified corpses as they hang from the tops of plants and spread the virus via their faeces. ‘It’s pretty gruesome when you think about it,’ Dr Miller said.
‘I’ve never seen it in eight years working with the Wildlife Trust, and my colleague hasn’t in 25 years, so it’s an unusual thing to witness,’ Dr Miller told MailOnline.