A web of intrigue in Ballymoney

Cobwebs The webs gave the tree a silvery appearance

Something strange is going on in Ballymoney - in the hours of darkness there has been an invasion of uninvited visitors.

Well, in one family's garden at least, on one rather large shrub.

Liam Kearney says his family first noticed something odd was happening a few weeks ago.

"About three weeks ago my wife commented one Saturday morning, she said did we have a silver tree out front, she had never noticed one," he said.

"I said no and when I went out to look, surely we had this tree just massively covered in cobwebs."

But these aren't ordinary spiders' webs. They are thick and strong and sticky and they cover the entire plant.

'Stripped bush'

Liam says their new Halloween-themed garden feature has been drawing quite a bit of attention.

"It has created quite a bit of attention locally. People came, stopped by and took photographs and as time went on, we noticed that caterpillars appeared in bunches of maybe 10 or 20 among the cobwebs and they gradually stripped the bush of every green leaf."

The Kearneys are uncertain what type of tree or shrub it is, but they have lived at the house for over a decade and have never seen anything like this before.

The mystery, however, has been solved by Ulster Wildlife's moth expert Andy Crory.

He says it is most likely an Ermine moth which is specific to this particular tree which is called Spindle.

Sticky webs

"I've only ever seen this in books. It is something which occurs naturally and it's caused by something called an Ermine moth. It's actually a micro-moth and it's only about 1 cm long."

But why so many and why the strong sticky webs?

"These things work on cycles, so some years you might not see it at all and then there will just be like a pulse, hundreds of thousands of these moths emerging at the same time.

"The silk is a defence strategy, some caterpillars are green, they are camouflaged and can hide from birds. Some are spiky or unpleasant to eat, but this spins silk and the birds can't get at it."

Andy says had this happened a few hundred years ago the Kearneys might have been in trouble.

"They'll cover park benches, they'll cover other trees, they'll cover footpaths, walls, and you know, it does look quite spooky and it's the sort of thing that hundreds of years ago somebody would have got burnt as a witch for."

But instead there is good news for the Kearneys. The tree should recover and with a bit of wind and rain, the silk should eventually disappear.

More Northern Ireland stories

RSS

Features & Analysis

  • French luxury Tea House, Mariage Freres display of tea pots Tea for tu

    France falls back in love with tea - but don't expect a British cuppa


  • Woman in swimming pool Green stuff

    The element that makes a familiar smell when mixed with urine


  • People take part in an egg-cracking contest in the village of Mokrin, 120km (75 miles) north of Belgrade, Serbia on 20 April 2014In pictures

    Images from around the world as Christians mark Easter Sunday


  • Female model's bottom in leopard skin trousers as she walks up the catwalkBum deal

    Why budget buttock ops can be bad for your health


Elsewhere on the BBC

  • ITChild's play

    It's never been easier for small businesses to get their message out to the world

Programmes

  • An aerial shot shows the Olympic Stadium, which is closed for repair works on its roof, in Rio de Janeiro March 28, 2014.Extra Time Watch

    Will Rio be ready in time to host the Olympics in 2016? The IOC president gives his verdict

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.