04/04/2007 11:00PM

Caterpillars still seen as threat

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The University of Kentucky has advised breeders in the state that a recent cold snap in the area will not kill Eastern tent caterpillars, which have been linked to 2001 and 2002 outbreaks of mare reproductive loss syndrome.

The university's agriculture experts are encouraging horsemen to continue monitoring caterpillar populations and begin eradication and control while the larvae are small.

"The Eastern tent caterpillar is an early-spring insect, so it typically faces erratic weather patterns like abnormal warm or cold spells," said UK entomologist Dr. Lee Townsend. "It is well protected by its hairy body insulation and aggregating with other caterpillars in the tents."

The reproductive loss syndrome caused thousands of early fetal losses in pregnant mares, as well deaths among foals who were born ill. In both years, the caterpillars' spring and early summer populations were higher than usual.

"There is no indication of widespread high populations of the Eastern tent caterpillar this year," Townsend said, but he noted that certain localized areas might see "abundant populations" of the caterpillars.

Townsend recommends that farms keep mares away from areas that have the caterpillars' white tent-like structures in cherry and crabapple trees. He also suggested treating affected trees with foliage sprays such as Talstar and Sevin or injections of Inject-A-Cide "B" or two-percent Abacide, with follow-up assessments five days after treatment.