English wildlife expert Chris Miller was recently studying butterflies on a wildlife reserve when he noticed something he’d never seen before.
“I saw this caterpillar just at the top of the branch of this small bush, and I thought, ‘That’s a bit weird. That shouldn’t be there,” the scientist told As It Happens guest host Piya Chattopadhyay.
Caterpillars very rarely climb to such heights, so Miller took a closer look and realised that he wasn’t looking at a live caterpillar, but instead it’s decaying remains where hanging from the tree while it’s body had been completely hollowed out.
Miller thinks that the caterpillar had been infected with a baculovirus, a neurovirus which affects the way that the host’s brain functions, causing the caterpillar to climb the tree before it eventually dies and the virus bursts from it’s body where it is spread to the surrounding areas.
“It’s really quite gruesome,” Miller said. “Something’s taking over your brain and it’s forcing you to do something against your will, so it is kind of zombie horror film type of thing, but for caterpillars.”