Say hello to your little friends

By Mike D'Amour

June 1, 2017 12:00 AM

BUGS B GONE Brandon Tupper, owner of Knights Spraying Inc., warns Lloydminster will be fending off an invasion of tent caterpillars this year in numbers so large it will make last year's inundation look small in comparison. MIKE D'AMOUR LLS PHOTO

We were invaded by tent caterpillars last year, yet one expert warns it will be worse this summer.
“I would say it is at least double the amount of last year—and I may be light on that prediction,” said Brandon Tupper, owner of Knights Spraying Inc., a Lloydminster company that specializes in the extermination of tent caterpillars.
“The population density is definitely larger in Lloyd than it was last year—every moth that made it (through) last year laid several hundred more eggs each.”
Employees of Knights and other similar services have been kept hopping since early last month when the wee skinheads of the insect world first started reappearing in parks, backyards and any place else they could find a leafy meal.
“I started seeing the caterpillars come back on May 8,” said Tupper.
“It was that first hot day where it hit 28C, or 29C and some of the eggs hatched then.”
The emerging caterpillars are about an inch long at the moment, but they will grow.
Tupper said the caterpillars moult a few times until they reach their maximum length of about three inches.
“That’s when they don’t need to be fed anymore and they go docile for a few days, then they split (from their squirmy brothers and sisters) and drop their silk, blow in the wind and go off on their own to create a cocoon.”
About a week later, the tent caterpillar moth emerges from the cocoon.
The moths are around for about a week, but in that time the female moths become fertilized.
At that point she has about 24 hours to live.
“So she’ll find a branch about the size of your finger and lays a band of eggs around it,” said Tupper.
The eggs will stay there through the winter and emerge when the trees begin to leaf, a ready meal for the hatchlings.
In a release from the City of Lloydminster, it was pointed out tent caterpillars feed on a large variety of trees, including ash, poplar, and chokecherry.
In some cases, insects can completely defoliate a tree, but trees will typically recover. However, after four consecutive years of heavy defoliation, trees can decline.
“The problem comes when it’s year after year after year after year … and your trees can start to die out, making it look like a Charlie Brown tree,” said Tupper.
The outbreaks typically last three to seven years.
“What needs to happen is the population has to grow to extremely high so a predator comes in,” said Tupper.
“That predator will be a parasite that will likely come in on flies.”
He added one has to go back almost 20 years to see an infestation as intense as the one we’re about to experience.
Many homeowners are using pesticides of their own making, but Tupper said he’s not a fan.
“It’s hard for me as a licensed applicator to (endorse) these home-brewed cocktails,” he said.
“It could do more harm the tree with these cocktails of vinegars, soaps and oils, than just letting the caterpillars be.”
However, chemicals aren’t the only answer to ridding a property of the caterpillars.
“If I was a homeowner, the first thing I would do—if I had the stomach for it and could reach everything—is physically pick (the caterpillars) off the tree,” Tupper said.
“They’re all in bunches and you can just squish them,” he said, noting the insects are “all bunched up during the day” it’s so easy to grab them.
“That’s the safest way of doing it—don’t climb a ladder or a tree, but what you can reach, just squish ‘em.”
Tupper also suggested using a garden hose with a high velocity nozzle to move the critters.
“Just blast them off your tree and time that with other cultural practises that you do with your grass and they’re not coming back to the tree.”
Knights charges a $75 truck stop fee and about 10 to 20 bucks a tree, depending on the size.
However, he said homeowners who prefer to use sprays are able to buy registered insecticides.
“As long as they follow the instructions, they’ll get good control of the tent caterpillars,” he said.
The city does not do a mass control for cankerworms, forest tent caterpillars, or leafrollers because they typically do not impact the long-term health of the trees.
The city will, however, concentrate on key ornamental areas within the Lloyd to minimize the pests and defoliation for this season.

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