Retired kindergarten teacher Li Mengqiu is on the front lines of an invasion.
There are not bullets or bombs going off, but she girds for battle every time she steps out the front gate of her courtyard to shop at her neighbourhood's farm produce market.
In fact, Li, 79, now uses diversionary tactics to buy her daily meat and vegetables for lunch and dinner. The resident of Shuncheng Street in the centre of Chengdu, capital of Southwest China's Sichuan Province, marches an extra 10 minutes on a flanking manoeuvre to get to the market to avoid marauding invaders who have taken over her community.
"Brown caterpillars are on the outside wall of my courtyard. There are tens of thousands of them and I feel sick whenever I think of them," she said in an interview with China Daily.
Li is only one of many in Chengdu plagued by the outbreak of the strange hairy larvae.
The creatures are 1 to 2 centimetres in size, and they have infested nearly 30 streets in the city.
Although the caterpillars apparently are not feeding on flowers, grass or trees in the immediate area, they are impregnable - found atop buildings, walls, wall corners, balconies and even residences. They number in the tens of thousands, clustering in areas like a giant throng of fuzzy mush.
The image of the grubs is doing great psychological, if not physical damage, to those sensitive to the creatures.
"Some elderly people, women and children in my neighbourhood feel depressed at the sight of these caterpillars, getting nauseated and even vomiting. A few people who suffer from hypersensitivity have symptoms of anaphylaxis (allergic reactions)," Li said.
Dozens of the caterpillars debuted on the wall of Li's courtyard late last month. Li and some neighbours tried a full frontal assault, using pesticides to kill them off.
But several days later reinforcements were back, with the number of invaders increasing, and finally skyrocketed.
According to Wang Guoxing, an expert in plant diseases and insect infestations with the Chengdu Centre for Baleful Living Beings Forewarning and Forecasting, the mysterious caterpillar debuted in the city last April.
"Nobody used pesticide then, but the caterpillar, which was found on the wall of a downtown street, disappeared suddenly several days afterward," he said in an interview with China Daily.
Ever since the outbreak of the caterpillars late last month, experts in Wang's centre have tried hard, but in vain, to identify it.
"Nobody knows what the caterpillar is. All the caterpillars found are grubs, but no institution in Chengdu specializes in grubs," said Liu Xiaolin, another expert with the centre.
To study the caterpillar species, Liu and her colleagues collected the grubs, trying to feed them. "But we did not know what to give them, and the idea of breeding them to do research was aborted," she said.
Both Wang and Liu have suggested the local government set up special funding and a research group consisting of experts to find a solution.
They have also issued an appeal for help, releasing their telephone number (028) 8767 3698 to ask for experts from outside the city to help identify the nasty creature.
Source: China Daily