Tent Caterpillars Threaten Kentucky Foals

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Eastern tent caterpillars are increasing this spring and horse breeders in Kentucky are worried. Researchers believe tent caterpillars are responsible for Mare Reproductive Loss Syndrome.

"Populations of the eastern tent caterpillar have increased noticeably over the past three years," said Lee Townsend, University of Kentucky College of Agriculture entomologist. "While infestations of the magnitude seen during the 2001-2002 Mare Reproductive Loss Syndrome outbreak are not anticipated, it is clear that eastern tent caterpillar populations are on the upswing and could be heavier than normal in some areas."

Entomologists will be closely monitoring caterpillar development over the next two to three weeks. Mare Reproductive Loss Syndrome (MRLS) can cause late-term foal losses, early-term fetal losses and weak foals.

UK researchers conducted epidemiological and field studies, which demonstrated that MRLS was associated with unprecedented populations of eastern tent caterpillars on Kentucky horse farms. Horses ingested the caterpillars, the hairs of which embed in the lining of the alimentary tract. Fetal death from these alimentary tract bacteria is the hallmark of MRLS.

University of Kentucky researchers warn mare owners to keep horses away from host trees, particularly cherry, for the next several weeks.