Creepy crawlies invade the District of Lakeland

Tyler Clarke
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A horror movie could be filmed in the Christopher Lake area this week, Village of Christopher Lake Mayor Denis Daughton suggested.


His suggestion appears as less of a joke once he explains how thick the forest tent caterpillar infestation currently is in his area.

Infestations are supposed to take place about once per decade, but Daughton said that he hasn’t seen so many caterpillars since the late ’70s.

“They’re everywhere,” he said. “They’re all over the buildings and they’ve devoured most of my choke cherries. They’ve stripped the leaves. There are no leaves.”

Sections of forest look more like autumn than they do summer and areas of highway are so thick with caterpillars that vehicles are sliding.

“You can see it on the roads, where the centre of the road where the tires hit them become darker on the pavement,” the mayor noted.

At the Lakeland Early Learning Co-operative, director Erin Dyck said that children are confined indoors due to the blanket of caterpillars waiting for them outside.

“Some children are fine with bugs and some aren’t, and normally when you’re outside and they are here and there it’s OK, but when your whole backyard is covered in them, then it becomes an issue for those children,” she said.

On the plus side, none of the children have tried to figure out how the caterpillars taste.

“Not yet, anyway,” Dyck said with a chuckle. “Knock on wood,”

The current forest tent caterpillar infestation is expected to continue until mid-July, at which point the caterpillars will spin themselves into silken cocoons.

After about 10 days in their cocoons, adult moths will emerge, mate, and die within five to 10 days.

They eggs they lay will emerge as next year’s round of tent caterpillars next year around the same time as this year’s influx.

Both the District of Lakeland and Village of Lakeland have adopted the “wait and see” approach in dealing with the caterpillars.

They’re all over the buildings and they’ve devoured most of my choke cherries. They’ve stripped the leaves. There are no leaves. Denis Daughton

“Our consultant has indicated that it’s a two to three-year cycle and that it won’t kill the trees,” District of Lakeland administrator Dave Dmytruk explained. “It’ll just set them back a bit.”

If this assessment proves accurate, it’s likely that the area’s elected officials opt to continue with their no-spray approach.

The District of Lakeland sprayed for spruce bud worms two years ago at a cost of  more than $30,000, Dmytruk explained, noting that spraying for the forest tent caterpillars would have been even more expensive.

On top of the cost, spraying brings environmental concerns, Daughton said, noting that while some sprays appear environmentally friendly they often kill more than just the targeted species.

“In the old days we used malathion, and malathion kills everything,” he said.

Although the City of Winnipeg remains a notable user of malathion to kill mosquitoes, it’s known to kill all insects, including beneficial ones, such as honeybees.

For now, the wait and see approach will continue, although if it appears as though area trees are at risk of dying, other options will be looked into.

“They don’t bite and they don’t sting people or poison them,” Daughton summarized. “They’re just creepy little things, that’s all.”

This year’s forest tent caterpillar infestation has appeared in small pockets throughout the Prairies, with the city of Prince Albert mostly spared.

City assistant parks manager Dan Sadlowski said that while there are some caterpillars in the city, no alarm bells have been ringing at the city.

However, if residents note a significant infestation they’re encouraged to call City Hall to look into it.

Organizations: Lakeland Early Learning Co

Geographic location: Lakeland, Winnipeg, Prince Albert

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