111. The Swarm!
On the 2nd April 1902 it was said that an unnatural darkness fell upon Wimbledon. No smoke or clouds were evident and locals began to panic considerably until, after ten minutes, the eeriness subsided. Had the residents of this London suburb been besieged by a swarm of insects? Cases of such have been numerous across the capital.
Twenty years later the Surrey suburbs of London were, according to authors John Michell and Bob Rickard, "... afflicted by swarms of small stinging flies like a mosquito with spotted wings". However, entomologist Professor H.M. Lefroy, could not identify the insect. At the time a plague of ladybirds gathered over London and Kent, but the biggest swarm took place in the 1800s when a huge dark cloud was seen moving over Battersea. The ominous form turned out to be millions of unidentified insects. At first, as the shadow loomed over the area, residents thought it was smoke billowing from the tree tops.
The early ladybird invasions provoked much debate among entomologists who stated, at a meeting in London, that the swarms consisted of insects far bigger than those seen in the UK. Sailors and fishermen aboard boats in the Channel were docking covered in these extraordinary masses. The London Standard of August 20th 1869 commented that the ladybirds were, "... of a paler colour with more spots", but 1974 saw one of the most severe swarms when caterpillars of the Vapourer moth invaded Berkeley Square and completely covered a statue. The Sunday Times reported on the extraordinary swarm stating, "... the pestilence of caterpillars, as Westminster City Council calls it arrived two weeks ago. Thousands of small furry creatures dropped 40-ft from the square's plane trees. Some dropped on to passers-by, others fell on the statue of the topless Greek lady."
Head of London Zoo's insect house believed the insects may well have been drawn to the location because of the street lights. A local gardener took it upon himself to clean up the insects but gave up after a short while as more and more seemed to appear out of nowhere.
A London woman commented at the time that the invasion echoed a similar bout twenty years previous at a Park Lane school. She said also that she recalled caterpillars at Berkeley Square before, which people, completely unaware, used to sit on as they rested on park benches. The insects were so dense in mass that locals probably never realised such creatures were present until they began to wriggle!
Clearly a case or two to make your skin crawl...
Photo by serk1 on flickr.