Caterpillars Invade Java Villages

Surabaya. East Java’s deputy governor has ordered officials to prepare for possible evacuations in areas hit by a caterpillar outbreak, a report said on Friday.

Saifullah Yusuf also requested authorities to monitor the situation in Probolinggo district, where villages were swamped by thousands of caterpillars, said Edi Purwinarti, the governor’s assistant on people’s welfare.

“So far, the condition is not that bad yet,” Edi said on Friday.

“The possibility of evacuating residents is [an option] if the conditions become worrying or dangerous,” Edi was quoted by Detiksurabaya.com as saying.

In the past two weeks, the swarm has spread to five subdistricts in Probolinggo, with the insects crawling into homes and fields, causing skin rashes among residents.

The herbivorous insects have also destroyed more than 8,800 mango trees — the district’s main agricultural product.

Saifullah said residents would only be evacuated after teams sent to the affected areas reported that it was necessary to do so.

The teams were also tasked to exterminate the caterpillars, believed to have come from the forests around Mount Bromo at the district’s border.

“The teams are at the location, conducting exterminations. We are trying to reduce the number of [insects at] affected locations,” Saifullah said. “Hopefully this can be overcome soon.”

He said the extermination teams used pesticide and disinfectants to kill off the insects.

Wibowo Eko Putro, head of East Java’s agriculture agency, said the swarm could have been caused by damage to Mount Bromo’s ecosystem after recent volcanic eruptions.

Reports said the disappearance of the insect’s natural predators could also be a culprit.

“A migration of the caterpillar population took place because the ecosystem on the slopes of Bromo has been destroyed,” Wibowo said.

The agriculture chief said, however, that his theory needed to be verified by experts.

Wibowo said the agriculture agency’s teams had also sprayed pesticide in affected villages, but they had to stop because the chemical was too expensive.

“We are now using preventive measures such as burning trash around the mango trees to reduce humidity,” Wibowo said, adding that this would slow down the insect’s growth.

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