A global pandemic.  Monster hornets.  Civil unrest.  Fires. Locusts.  2020 has already been one for the record books.  (And - we just broke a few of those recently, with hotter-than-usual June temperatures!)  What's next?  Forest Tent Caterpillars?

Cyclically-speaking, we're overdue for an infestation of the blueish-speckled caterpillars - as they generally peak every 10 to 12 years.  Truth be told, I hadn't given them much thought until I ran across an article that begs the question of where they've been.  That article poses some interesting hypothesis but no real concrete answers as to why we haven't seen a Northland infestation like we have in years past. Most of them are weather-related.   Paraphrasing, some of those theories involve:

  • The 2014 Polar Vortex might have froze the caterpillar eggs.  But, experts point out that we have had colder winters than that in the Northland - and those didn't affect the population in a similar way.
  • Our colder/wetter average springs over the last few years might have encouraged the growth of fungus, which kills off and reduces the Forest Tent Caterpillar population.
  • The biggest predator that Forest Tent Caterpillars have is flies; on average, these have hatched earlier than usual - which would have posed a larger and earlier danger to vulnerable caterpillar eggs and the young Forest Tent Caterpillars.

So what has happened to the Forest Tent Caterpillar?  That same article I mentioned above talks about the succession of peak years - with years of 1969, 1978, 1990 and 2001 in recent memory.  Using that as a base timeline, we are long overdue for an infestation.

Most Northlanders vividly recall the last two peaks - with the 2001 infestation the worst (the largest) one on record - with more than 14 million acres of hardwoods affected in the two year 2001-2002 period.

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