May 15, 2009

Caterpillars devouring Chinese grassland

A mysterious thorny green caterpillar has devastated thousands of acres of livestock grassland in China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, scientists said.

An estimated 50,000 head of livestock and 50 herding families have been forced to move from land in Usu in the worst plague of caterpillars in three decades, China's state-run news agency Xinhua reported.

The caterpillars must change into moths before researchers from the Beijing-based Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences can identify them by their size, color, wings and genitalia, Xinhua reported Friday.

The mystery may remain unsolved for months if the caterpillars choose to estivate in the hot, arid summer and postpone their metamorphosis until the fall, said Gao Song, an academy researcher.