A RETIRED postman was left stunned after millions of caterpillar-type pests completely ravaged bushes at the front of his home before seemingly disappearing without a trace.
John Joe Halpin said passing motorists were stopping to look at the stripped white thorn bushes, thinking he had scorched them with spray.
However on closer inspection, they saw that the depleted foliage was completely covered in a spider web type 'mist'.
The 82-year old from Killary, Lobinstown, Co. Meath now wants to know if anyone can help identify the insects as no-one in the area seems to know what they are.
"I saw them a few years ago in a field in the middle of nowhere but didn't pass any remarks until they destroyed my ditch," he said.
"They are tiny black caterpillar-like insects and they weave webs over the bush. They only seem to target the whitethorn bushes, nothing else."Indeed, they crossed my gate to get to more whitethorns on the other side.
"There were millions of them. The bushes were covered in them until all the leaves were eaten within two to three weeks.
"Then they just disappeared. A good few of them died but the others seem to have left. The strange thing is that none of the birds would eat them."
The popular former postman who battled three different types of cancer over 16 years and underwent over 100 chemotherapy and radiation sessions would love an ecologist to enlighten him as to what they are.
"I'd love to know what they are and a bit about them. I may have to spray the bushes next year to stop them coming back," concluded.
Local Fine Gael Cllr Paddy Meade said: "Cars were stopping along the road for weeks watching his hedge disappear due to these black caterpillars which covered the hedge in a web like substance.
"This must have been upsetting for John Joe as he takes pride in his perfectly manicured garden, hedges and verges
"He joked with me that he wished they'd leave his shrubs alone and eat the weeds or the ivy but the funny thing is that every other plant was left untouched.
"There is a fear from some locals that they will spread and take out the neighbouring hedges as they've already gleaned about 500 meters of whitethorn."
John Joe Halpin with Cllr Paddy Meade
In a statement from the National Parks and Wildlife service to Cllr Meade, the local ranger noted: "These caterpillars appear to be Ermine Moth larvae which are native to Ireland.
"They will tend to spin webs to protect themselves from birds and wasps.
"As they tend to consume so much in one area, they will move far afield for the next season, hence why they may not have been noticed in the area before."
It is understood that the mild winter is being blamed for an explosion of the larvae which can devastate hawthorn hedgerows.
The pests were reported last month in Kilkeel, Co. Down where they stripped long sections of the hedgerow.