Residents feared the start of a “caterpillar invasion”, after a row of bushes along the A3 became completely engulfed by an infestation.

The bushes, which lie on a slip road next to the Shannon Corner retail park, were covered in silk webs woven by caterpillars that had finished feeding after hibernating.

New Malden resident Fred Dawson said: “There were hundreds of caterpillars. This could be the start of the New Malden caterpillar invasion.”

A spokesman from Commercial Pest Control London advised people not to go near the caterpillar tents, as the 4cm creepy crawlies can irritate the skin, eyes and throat.

The spokesman said: “Avoid contact or handling the caterpillars. Remember to keep windows closed close by infestations.

“The caterpillars are most active during May and June. Using contractors to apply insecticides in early summer is expensive and not guaranteed to totally effective.”

Exterminators suggested waiting until autumn to purge the caterpillar tents, when either insecticides or a bonfire could be used by a qualified professional.