A plague of caterpillars at Baiyun Hill in Guangzhou is scaring locals and tourists away from the city's only national scenic park.
Local residents and experts say the managers of the state-run park have a case to answer after they recently allowed a commercial event to take place at which thousands of butterflies were set free in the reserve between April 29 and May 12.
The Southern Metropolis Daily has reported that fuzzy white caterpillars as big as a human thumb can be seen on every tree in the park. Reporters visited the park and saw tourists screaming and running in horror as caterpillars dropped onto their heads or hands.
Sponsored by a local company that breeds and sells butterflies, the park set free more than 100,000 butterflies on the mountain last month, during its first festival to promote "butterfly culture", according to the report.
The Dream of Butterfly company breeds the creatures to be set free at product launches, anniversary parties and other commercial events. The butterflies set free at Baiyun Hill included at least 20 species including golden birdwings, common Mormons, swallowtails and plain tigers.
Both the park and the company insisted that setting free butterflies was environment-friendly and encouraged people to love nature and wildlife.
But other experts said it posed a clear risk to the ecological balance of local communities. "Introducing a large number of non-native species artificially from other ecosystems is risky," Wang Yingyong , deputy head of Sun Yat-Sen University's Museum of Biology, was quoted as saying.
A park spokeswoman said yesterday it would be a major task to clear all caterpillar colonies without using toxic pesticides and polluting the park.
"Our management is still planning it," she said, adding that there had been no reports of anyone having an allergic reaction to contact with the caterpillars.