The mystery of the bajillions of caterpillars army worms caterpillars eating and defecating their way through Liberia and Guinea appears to be solved: they’re caterpillars after all.

The insects, thought to be armyworms, are in fact the caterpillars of the moth Achaea catocaloides, says the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization.

Cornering the culprit will allow the government to select the best pesticide to tackle the outbreak – the worst seen in Liberia since 1970.

Whereas the dreaded army worms burrow deep into the ground to form their protective cocoons, caterpillars apparently choose a much more pesticide-accessible hiding pupating place: under leaves. The epidemic will still require a concerted regional approach, as villagers’ understandable ad hoc attempts thus far — stamping on and burning the caterpillars — will, according to the FAO, “not be enough.”

(image of caterpillar — not the Achaea catocaloides — from flickr user Mean and Pinchy, under a Creative Commons license)

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