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Eastern tent caterpillars taking over Tallahassee amid population outbreak

Published: Mar. 31, 2021 at 11:23 PM EDT
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WCTV) - Spring has sprung in Tallahassee, and along with it, has brought something else.

Eastern tent caterpillars are everywhere, taking over Tallahassee and beyond, are hard to ignore and are leaving many to wonder what exactly is going on.

WCTV’s Katie Kaplan spoke with a local bug expert about why the population is so large this year.

As it turns out, there’s a pretty simple explanation as to why there are so many.

“Caterpillars everywhere! All over our street, and in our hair and in everything,” said Megan Buning, a Tallahassee resident. Albert Sanchez, another resident, said, “I’ve been here 5 years and this is the first time that I’ve really noticed them.”

Research scientist Dr. Stephen Hight, who recently retired from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, had some insight on why we’re seeing so many this year. “It does seem to be that this is an outbreak year, a large population,” Dr. Hight said.

He explained that the boom happens every four or 10 years when conditions are ripe, and that this is just one of those times.

”They’re gregarious,” Dr. Hight said. “They’re one of the most social caterpillars around. They live in groups.”

Dr. Hight said the caterpillars are native to the U.S. and grow in silk “tents” high up in the cherry trees. They live there for about a year before chewing their way through and emerging out into the world.

Hight said they eat foliage about three times a day for about four to six weeks until they’re big enough to spin a cocoon. Then, they’ll morph into a moth.

“They’re kind of a yellowish, drabbish butterfly,” Dr. Hight described.

But, don’t worry, they don’t sting or bite.

Dr. Hight said that everything they eat will grow back, and there is a possibility that they’ll be back in abundance next year, but it all just depends on nature.

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