Texas hospital tries to stop birds living in nearby trees, accidentally creates haven for North America's most venomous caterpillar
Texas hospital's attempts to deter birds have accidentally created a haven for North American's most venomous caterpillar species, whose painful sting has been compared to breaking a bone. Nets were put up on the oak trees that line the sidewalks of Texas Medical Center in Houston to stop birds like grackles and pigeons—which can carry diseases and create a mess—from gathering. But by putting the birds off from landing on the trees, the institution created a new problem. With no birds to eat them, the population of bugs commonly known as "asps" exploded. After studying the area for three years, researchers found the caterpillars were 7,300 percent more abundant on netted trees compared to those without protection. Also known as Megalopyge opercularis or puss moth caterpillars, the insects are the most poisonous caterpillars in North America. The creatures are covered in spines linked to a sac filled with poison. If someone brushes against an asp, the protrusions break off and stick into the skin, releasing venom. After around five minutes, the victim will experience an intense throbbing pain, which then spreads. Stings can be accompanied by headaches, vomiting and nausea, as well as stomach pains. Glen Hood, who led the study at Rice University and is a research assistant professor of biological sciences at Wayne State University, said in a statement: "There are a lot of people that congregate in the green spaces of TMC [Texas Medical Center]. It becomes this scenario of what's worse—bird guano or venomous asps—and is there a happy medium?" Hood commented: "It's highly suggestive that when you don't take into account the natural interactions taking place within a community or ecosystem, even in an urban setting, it can cause unforeseen consequences."
September 9, 2019