Boxtree moths' ‘Hitchcockian’ home invasion

Lot house is under daily siege from thousands of semi-transparent pests

23 August 2017

As reported previously in The Connexion, the boxwood moth (pyrale du buis) is wreaking havoc in more than fifty departments in France, stripping leaves on woodland and hedges.

After the destructive phase in its caterpillar form, the insect becomes a pupae in a chrysalis before emerging as a white, semi-transparent moth with a life expectancy of one week.

For Florence Racine, who lives in Castelnau-Montrartier in the Lot, the daily home invasion of thousands of these moths is taking on Hitchcockian 'The Birds' proportions.

Ms Racine, who has to clear her terrace and walls of moths every morning, had already launched a “call to scientists” to help her get rid of the invaders. “We are leading the fight in our corner with pheromones, micro-wasps and sprinklers of thurigiencis bacillus,” she wrote on Facebook. She and her husband have even resorted to placing bowls of washing up liquid on the floor to lure the moths.

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Boxtree moth expert Christian Marchand said Ms Racine’s plight is not rare: “Every day I have calls from people who phone me and tell me they have to be careful when they open their mouths, on restaurant terraces and campsites.” Last summer, he heard from someone who caught 17,000 moths in just one night.

The large volume of moths at this time of year is due to the rapid reproductive cycle of the insect: it renews itself three or four times, and each female moth lays between 500 and 800 eggs (giving birth to as many caterpillars). “At the moment, there are a lot of them because there are three generations at the same time,” said Mr Marchand. “It will calm down from October, but the last caterpillars will take refuge all winter, making a cocoon.”

Mr Marchand stressed that the moths are not dangerous as they are only seeking nectar.

In mid-July, millions of tiny parasitic wasps were released in eastern France as part of large-scale tests to find ways of getting rid of boxtree moths.

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