July 26, 2006

Belgians battle caterpillar plague with love traps

BRUSSELS -- Male moths in Belgium are being lured into love traps coated with female hormones in a bid to stem a plague of hairy caterpillars that are infesting woodlands and causing itching frenzies in humans.

The countryside surrounding the city of Bree is filled with oak trees and plagued by procession caterpillars. Previous efforts to rid the woods of these bugs, including pesticides and burning, have been unsuccessful.

"We are now making an experiment," said Patrick Hermans, head of the city's environmental department. "We are using a female sex hormone that makes the males come to the traps. They fall in and die."

Procession caterpillars, which get their name because of the way they march together through the forests, are covered in stingy hairs containing a toxin that causes itching and can lead to dermatitis.