In a bizarre turn of events that may have the superstitious blaming the four horsemen of the apocalypse (Pestilence, Famine, War, Death), the Liberian government has declared a state of emergency after tens of millions of caterpillars — African armyworms — have appeared in the northern part of the country.
According to CNN, the creatures, believed by the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) to be African armyworms, appeared during the week of January 12th and spread quickly. In a matter of a week, the African armyworm caterpillars, described by villagers as “black, creeping and hairy,” spread to 50 villages. The Liberian state of emergency covers the three northern Liberian counties of Bong, Lofa and Gbarpolu.
CNN reported that “President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf told legislators Monday that 350,000 people in 62 communities in those three counties may have been affected” by the African armyworms. Since their arrival, the larvae have destroyed crops, contaminated the water supply, overrun homes and may have already spread to Guinea, Sierra Leone and the Ivory Coast.
At this point, the BBC reports that the best weapon against African armyworms is to spray the crops with insecticides. Because the farmers cannot afford such protection, the government has called for international assistance to bring aerial crop spraying to the fields.
In a chilling announcement to CNN, Liberian Information Minister Laurance Brophleh said,
“I am not aware that they have been here before, ever, and certainly not in this great number. That is why it was so overwhelming initially when we first discovered it.”
The FAO is calling the plague Liberia’s worst in 30 years.
What are Armyworms?
According to the BBC, the armyworms aren’t worms at all, but caterpillars. However, they received the name armyworm because of their habit of “marching” in large numbers across fields and crops. The caterpillars emerge during the rainy season and devour crops in swarms, ravaging farms until the land is barren. The armyworms are also responsible for disease, since their feces enters the rivers, streams and wells during their stay, polluting the drinking water.
Where do Armyworms come from?
The armyworms are the larvae of nocturnal moths, of the species Spodoptera exempta. The females lay their eggs in grasses and food crops, laying between 500 and 1,000 eggs in their 10-day lifetime.
The moths are able to spread their eggs in such numbers because they are capable of flying more than 60 miles per night. Once the larvae hatch, they migrate in colonies, looking very much like hordes of black snakes traveling through the grass.
Melissa Gray, Hungry Caterpillars Force Liberian Emergency, CNN
Army Worm Caterpillar Invades Libera, UPI.com
Q&A: Armyworms Ravage Liberia, BBC News