Whether you call them forest tent caterpillars or army worms, they are beginning to march by the millions across roads, into backyards, and onto buildings.
“Somebody has to sweep the doorway before I can go out,” noted Joyce Strachan, whose back lawn of her Eighth Street home is carpeted with the bugs.
As the caterpillars forage in the nearby bush, the trees there have become noticeably defoliated. Now the creepy critters have begun—in infestational proportions—to move out in search of more food.
For the Strachans, who have lived on Eighth Street for 42 years, this may be the worst case of caterpillar crusading ever. “It was bad last year but it’s way worse this year,” she said.
“They’re not coming into the house but eventually you carry them in somehow,” noted neighbour Gord Ogden, who, along with his wife, Marian, is doing his best not to be bothered by the critters.
“They [bother] my wife more than me but they’re getting to us,” he said. “I was out there cutting the lawn and I thought ‘Gee there’s a lot of cobwebs’ and then I looked down and had army worms on my arms, legs, all over. . . .
“Needless to say, I decided not to cut it.”
Unfortunately, the worst is yet to come.
“They’re still small right now,” noted Ralph Horn, an area forester with the Ministry of Natural Resources. “The real migration may not have begun.
“Basically when they’re out of food on the host trees, they start looking for [more],” he said. “Their major feeding is basically through the month of June. They start to cocoon in mid-July.
“Once they hit the ground, they basically start walking and go up the first upright thing that they find.”
On the upside, this may be the last time residents will see the infestation for several years.
Parasites, viruses, and predatory insects and birds should catch up to the caterpillars this year, reducing their population significantly for the next 10, maybe 12, years.
“This should be the last year, that the good news,” said Horn.
Although the worst is yet to come this summer, some fun can be had at the caterpillars’ expense. As Times’ employee Pam Munn noted, if you pull up near a horde of the caterpillars and honk your car horn, they jump, squirm, and sometimes fall down in fright.
And if you really try hard, maybe, just maybe, a use can be found for the critters.
“We’ll invite you over for a stir fry,” Ogden laughed.