08/27/2002 11:00PM

More foal loss studies, theories


LEXINGTON, Ky. - A group of equine disease and caterpillar researchers gathered at the University of Kentucky on Tuesday and Wednesday to discuss a variety of theories and new avenues for studying mare reproductive loss syndrome (MRLS).

Research has yet to determine the definitive cause of the abortion-causing syndrome, but recent studies by scientists and equine veterinarians have linked the syndrome to the Eastern tent caterpillar. The syndrome was first identified in April 2001 when several thousand central Kentucky mares aborted early fetuses and late-term foals. A population explosion in the Eastern tent caterpillar also was underway last spring.

The workshop at the Gluck Equine Research Center presented updates on research and theories regarding the syndrome's cause, but scientists on hand also emphasized that they still have much research to do.

Among the topics under discussion at the meeting was an experiment in which Livestock Disease Diagnostic Laboratory researchers caused late-term abortions in mares after placing crushed tent caterpillars in the mares' stomachs via a nasal tube. Other topics at the conference included a detailed review of symptoms associated with MRLS; an overview of research into possible causes of the syndrome, including caterpillars, fungal-produced toxins in grass, and caterpillar "hairs" called setae; and potential caterpillar-control strategies such as sex-pheromone traps for moths and insecticide spraying.