Tent caterpillars recurring problem in Peace River

They have been spotted hiding in the trees and the neighbours have started to talk.


No one wants these visitors on their farmyard again this year.


Last year, everyone was afraid to leave the house.


The first signs of tent caterpillars have been spotted in Alberta’s Peace River region.


The tiny worm-like caterpillars arrive in farmyards by the millions, feasting on the leaves of poplar trees and creating a wall of webs on bushes and homes before dropping down like rain drops.


“They were just awful,” said Bill Evans, greenskeeper of the Eaglesham Lakeside Golf and Country Club.


“Literally, it looked like the number nine fairway was moving,” Evans said as the caterpillars crawled in search of more leaves to devour.


It was so bad in some areas he refused to send his staff into the trees to cut lawns or retrieve lost balls.


“I wouldn’t send my guys into the trees. They would rain down on you and crawl down your collar.”


Golfers stayed away and campers pulled out their trailers because they were held hostage inside because of the caterpillars.


“It hits the pocket book,” said Evans.


The caterpillars build webs between the trees to travel in search of new food sources, but Evans said the webs were like giant curtains five feet wide and “right down to the ground.”


Last year was the second year in a row that tent caterpillars devastated trees in the Peace, and Evans finally called in the aerial applicators in an attempt to kill or slow down the caterpillars.


Bob Hnatko of Western Air Spray said he sprayed more than 80 farmyards and acreages after flying to the Peace to spray the caterpillars at the golf course 


This year he is heading north from his Westlock base again and already has three golf courses and more than 200 homes booked to spray with DiPel, an insecticide that can be used in conventional and organic farms for worm-like pests.


Hnatko said word spread last year as soon as he landed at Eaglesham, and he was swarmed with requests to spray farmyards and acreages.


“Every farm wife is petrified of going outside when the caterpillars are there,” he said.


“You can’t walk under trees and they climb the sides of houses.”


The tent caterpillars are controlled with only six or seven passes, and it’s then safe to leave the house.


Hnatko said spraying tent caterpillars is a good way to meet farmers before the busy spray season begins.