Traffic on the road leading to Seawoods station from Sector 50 came to a standstill on Thursday morning after a large number of mangrove moth caterpillars rained down from trees on vehicles and pedestrians. Several eyewitnesses likened the brownish-black larvae or caterpillars shower to “heavy, black-coloured rain”.
The larvae of mangrove moths are not usually seen in October. Experts said their prevalence in large numbers could be a consequence of climate change.
Nirmala Ranjan, a 35-year-old resident of Sector 27 in Seawoods was on her way to the station on Thursday afternoon, when she felt insects crawling all over her head and body. “I was not alone. Several two-wheeler riders had to stop and brush them off their helmets and bodies. The traffic came to a halt as a lot of caterpillars kept falling from the trees. I had to brush them off very hard, because they kept sticking to my body,” she said.
Manoj Khairnar (45), another resident of the area, said, “I have been living here all my life, but have never seen anything like this.”
Caterpillars or larvae of mangrove moths are found all around Mumbai and Navi Mumbai. Belonging to a family of teak moths, they feed off the mangrove trees before flying away. “These moths and caterpillars are harmless and have a small life-cycle, probably not more than a month,” Dr V Shubhalaxmi, entomologist and Kharghar-based moth expert said.
Referring to Thursday’s incident as the first-of-its-kind, she said, “This is directly related to climate change. These moths lay eggs when it rains. Since the rains continued till October this year, their egg laying and hatching cycle has grown longer,” she said. These caterpillars are usually washed off by the rain to the ground, where they go under the soil to form cocoons, she said.
“They generally travel from the trees to underground with the rain, but since it was dry and windy, the tethers and the larvae flew with the wind, landing on vehicles and other places,” she said.
The larvae ‘shower’ caused panic in Seawoods with several people complaining about skin irritation, Navi Mumbai Municipal Corporation employees said. “We had to hose down the trees and the entire area, including the roads. We will also get the tree branches trimmed to avoid such incidents. But this was the first time such an incident happened,” an official from NMMC said.