Tent Caterpillars Return To Kentucky

By: Denny Trease Email
By: Denny Trease Email

Research at UK has strongly linked tent caterpillars with Mare Reproductive Loss Syndrome, so naturally people get concerned when those fuzzy little creatures start turning out in great numbers, like this year.

They're back and while there are more tent caterpillars around now than in recent years, they're still not nearly as plentiful as in 2001 when MRLS wiped out about 30 per cent of Kentucky's thoroughbred foal crop.

UK Agricultural Entomologist Lee Townsend says, "Everyone is just a lot more aware of the caterpillars, or certainly in the horse business they are. They're watching for them."

Townsend reminds us, "Back around 2000 we had an outbreak that lasted for 2 or 3 years when virtually every wild cherry tree and a lot of ornamental crab apples were infested. As you drive down the highway now, you can pick out a few trees in a row with lots of tents, but nothing like what we saw back then. That's a relief for most of the horse owners around."

Townsend says now is the perfect time for those farm owners to attack the problem in whatever way they choose because of where the caterpillars are on the trees.

He explains, "As the caterpillars develop, they'll tend to move from lots of small nests on limbs to some central nests that make it easier to treat, and you can take advantage of their behavior so that they're clumped together and you have fewer nests to try to either remove or treat. Once they disperse, we don't have a good way of dealing with them."

And what happens when a mare eats those caterpillars?

Townsend says, "the caterpillars are really hairy, but those small hairs are relatively stiff so if an animal ingests it, some of them lodge in the digestive track and create an avenue for bacteria, and that apparently is the mechanism that ended up with the abortions we saw several years ago."

But with far fewer caterpillars for the horses to eat and better awareness among farm owners about how to dispose of them or have their horses avoid them, there is no reason to expect another outbreak of MRLS.


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Comments are posted from viewers like you and do not always reflect the views of this station.
  • by Schon Location: Nicholasville on May 2, 2008 at 02:30 PM
    I read about the horse problems that is happening and I do remember the problems in 2001. We own a small peice of property, but no horses. However, We do have a garden and a few peach trees. Them seem to be wiping out each tree down the fence line. Any suggestions on how to treat the problem? What to use?
  • by Kevin Location: Kentucky on May 2, 2008 at 11:06 AM
    They are a nuisance. Burning does work and they do make good fishing bait.
  • by Steve Location: Lexington on May 2, 2008 at 05:46 AM
    Burn them out of the trees...it seems to work. Take a lighter and light the nest, it won't burn the tree down and it kills their nests. I also heard if you spray gasoline on the nest with a garden sprayer it will kill them also, but with gas so high it's not economical to do that and only causes the price of gas to go up due to demand. So, take a lighter and burn 'em out of your trees...they're worthless anyways.
  • by Zatoichi Location: Richmond on May 2, 2008 at 02:15 AM
    Back in the early 1950's there was a severe outbreak of these creatures. At that time the caterpillers would stealthily come into homes overnight and into the beds of sleeping folks. People would awaken surrounded in a suffocating tent of nylon. many older folks were victims of asphyxiated due to this. Those who survived seemed never to be the same person again. This incident was made into a movie called Invasion of The Body Snatchers and won a Nobel Peace Prize in the category of "Most Inconvient and Possibly Fabricated". Same category that Al Gore won in.
  • by Lee Location: Manchester on May 1, 2008 at 07:32 PM
    I have heard on the news that Ms. Baker was going to get out of prison for the murder of her stepson. How could any board or a decent person ever think of letting something like that out of prison. Just think about what that child suffered right before he died. Animals seems to have more people caring about them than the ones that have had terrible deaths. I don't care how long she has been in prison, life is not long enough for her. How will people be able to look at her without all that hatred? They can't, and she will probley see more hatred than ever.
  • by I got questions Location: Do you have answers on May 1, 2008 at 03:38 PM
    Is there any way to get rid of these things from fruit trees other than spraying? My trees are so big and bushed out that I have a hard time spraying them.

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