In 1994, Ferndale was the main location for filming the movie Outbreak, a story about a virus that takes over a small town. 25 years later, we’re experiencing a real outbreak, although with less catastrophic results than the movie virus.
Every spring I’m used to seeing tent caterpillars in our yard. They tend to favor the willow trees in the back by the creek, and I would notice them once they start descending their silk strings like a troupe of tiny Ninja warriors. Since the caterpillars turn into a nocturnal moth, they are a lot more noticeable when they’re in this stage of their life.
Usually there are a lot of them, they start life in colonies that include from 50 to 200 members. But this year they are everywhere, in huge colonies that are only a few feet from their neighboring colonies. I noticed them first on our espaliered apple tree, where I ridded it of about 7 or 8 colonies. That’s over a thousand of these buggers on one tree. While they don’t bother the developing fruit, a group that size can defoliate a tree pretty quickly. So knowing that there are probably millions in the willow trees in my backyard, I don’t feel bad about organically wiping out those on my apple trees. Organic in this case was spraying them off with a jet of water and them doing a stomping dance around the base of the tree. Rinse and repeat.
Reading up on them, I learned that they tend to have these population outbreaks every decade or so. I don’t remember this happening before, and we’ve been here 19 years. But maybe I just didn’t have as much planted in the yard the last time so I didn’t notice is as much.
The outbreaks can last 2-3 years so I guess I’ll be dealing with them the next few years too. I’ve seen they’re egg sacks on the apple trees not knowing what they were. Now that I know what they are I’ll be disposing of those I see while picking fruit or pruning.