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Liberian crop pest mystery solved

The mystery pest which has devoured crops and contaminated water in Liberia and Guinea has finally been identified. The insects, thought to be armyworms, are in fact the caterpillars of the moth Achaea catocaloides. Cornering the culprit will allow the government to select the best pesticide to tackle the outbreak - the worst seen in Liberia since 1970. More than 20,000 people have so far had to evacuate their homes. The Liberian President declared a national state of emergency after caterpillars were reported to have infested more than 100 villages, including several over the border in Guinea. "We really have some homework to do now - because the caterpillars are still spreading." One piece of good news for farmers is that the caterpillars are likely to be easier to control than armyworms would have been. They spin their cocoons on the ground under fallen leaves, which leaves them relatively exposed. One challenge will be reaching the sites of the caterpillar eggs - which are laid on the leaves of very tall Dahoma trees. These eggs hatch into caterpillars which feed on the leaves of the trees until they mature and fall to the ground, where they pupate. Caterpillars which are not yet mature begin migrating in search of food - leading them to crop fields, into water bodies and residential areas. The cause of this year's unexpectedly large outbreak is likely to be UNUSUAL WEATHER PATTERNS.

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