Belgian army faces hairy caterpillar horde

Blowtorch weapon versus lepidoptera menace

Belgian soldiers are to be deployed in the country's forests to combat the menace of hairy caterpillars, Reuters reports.

The procession caterpillars - so named because of their habit of marching in convoy - boast long toxic hairs which provoke dermatitis and respiratory problems in humans and account for around 80 per cent of doctor visits in their operational zone in the eastern province of Limburg.

Accordingly, the authorities have ordered in the troops. Belgian military spokeswoman Ingrid Baeck said yesterday: "A bit less than a platoon, about 24 soldiers and airmen, will be deployed to help the fire brigade and civil protection authority combat the caterpillars."

Following the failure of previous weapons, including helicopter-sprayed pesticide, the grunts in the frontline will assault the insects with "super-size blowtorches" during a six-week campaign.

Baeck explained: "In teams of two people, they will go through the forests and burn the little animals off the trees. There have not been enough people to do this and I think we can make the difference." ®

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