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Caterpillars invade Tampa Bay!

2:46 PM, Mar 9, 2011   |    comments
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Largo, Florida --  Depending on who you talk to, those little caterpillars hanging on the edge of the long, silky threads are either pretty cool or disgusting.

"I think it's kind of gross," said 6-year-old Mace Morris as he played with his brothers at Largo's Eagle Lake Park.

Photos: Caterpillars invade Tampa Bay

The green and yellowish caterpillars are hanging from just about the playground equipment, off the trees and even off of cars and people if you happen to get in the way.

"I feel like they're climbing on me.  They're hanging on trees, they're hanging off of the children's equipment and it's just ooey gooey," said June Chittenden.

Jane Morse, with the Pinellas County Extension says the caterpillars are the larvae of either oak leafrollers or oakleaftier moths.

And right about now, they're just about everywhere oak trees can be found.

"Normally in Florida, we don't get very heavy infestations, but we might have several years of just slight infestations of other years, you might have a total collapse of the population where you won't see any," said Morse.

On Monday, the Extension office received more than 200 calls from people wondering what in the heck the creatures are and whether they are harmful.

"They're not harmful at all," explained Morse, "It's the eek, eww kind of factor.  People just get really grossed out by them, but they're not harmful, they're not going to hurt you at all other than just grossing you out."

Morse says the caterpillars started making an appearance about one week ago, so this means we'll have about three more weeks of swatting and dodging of the insects that seem to float in the air on their long, silky threads as they make the journey from the trees to the ground.

It may be an annoyance for us humans, but for the caterpillars natural predators, birds and wasps, it's a feast.

"There's a lot of natural things that keep them in control," said Morse.

The leaf eating caterpillars are also a feast for the trees according to Morse because their droppings provide nitrogen for new plant life.

While the caterpillars are not expected to cause major damage to the area's trees, if you have a tree that seems to be defoliated from the insects, Morse says you can use a biological control spray of Bacillus thuringiensis var. kurstaki.

Otherwise, ensure your defoliated tree gets enough water in the next several months to help maintain its health.

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