Tent caterpillar outbreaks plague Canadian communities
Several communities in Canada are being overrun by millions of forest tent caterpillars, and while the infestations may be natural, people coping with the critters say they are also highly annoying.
In the town of Whitecourt, Alberta, northwest of Edmonton, long-time resident Norm Spooner says his property has been under attack by caterpillars for weeks. They cover the trees on his property, and crawl up the walls of his house.
He's tried a number of methods to keep the bugs at bay, manually removing their tent-like nests from trees, and spraying the insects off with his high-pressure hose.
"I can spray them down and they'll be crawling back up the walls in a few minutes," he says.
His most effective method so far: burning the creatures with a propane cylinder and dousing them in soapy water.
Whitecourt city councillor Derek Schlosser says this year’s is the biggest infestation he's ever seen.
"We have lived in this location 12 years and this is the worst that we have seen it,” he said.
But he adds there's not much homeowners can do.
"It is a natural part of life. We just have to deal with it the best we can," he said.
Tent caterpillars are harmless to humans, but they do eat leaves at an incredible rate. In one park in Whitecourt, many of the poplars are bare, after the caterpillars munched off almost all their leaves.
Tent caterpillars reproduce every year, but every decade or so, their populations soar, leading to outbreaks like the kind seen in Whitecourt this year, as well as Winnipeg and other Canadian communities.
The outbreaks aren't predictable because they depend on several environmental and biological factors, but once every 10 years is typical.
Tent caterpillars tend to hatch in the early spring, after trees bud. They feed on leaves for approximately six weeks, and then search for places to create cocoons. About 10 days later, the adult forest tent moth emerges and the female immediately begins to lay eggs for the next spring.
While tent caterpillars can cause severe damage to trees as they defoliate them, they seldom kill them; most trees will bud again later in the summer.
Whitecourt Mayor Maryann Chichak says her town isn't planning to try to cull the caterpillars.
"As a community, we have to let it run its course. It hasn’t really been considered an epidemic here,” she said.
"Hopefully, within the next couple of weeks we will see these little critters go away and not come back next year.
With a report from CTV Edmonton's Nicole Weisberg