September 20, 2019
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Caterpillars besiege Maine neighborhood, triggering traffic warning

BLUE HILL, Maine — Their smell reminds Devon Granger of a bait truck. And when she runs them over with her car, the sound makes her think of popcorn, popping.

Granger is talking about caterpillars.

That’s right. Caterpillars.

Millions of the fuzzy little beasts have flooded Mines Road between Second and Third ponds for the last few weeks. It has created such a hazard that state officials placed a sign in the area and posted a statewide traffic advisory warning motorists to go slow in the slippery conditions.

The approximately 2-mile stretch of the road, which is also known as Route 176 or Route 15, features trees almost completely denuded of leaves, said Aaron Osborn, a 23-year-old plumber from Brooksville whose mother, Margaret Perkins Tufts, lives between the ponds on Douglass Loop road.

Nick Sambides Jr. | BDN
Nick Sambides Jr. | BDN
Trees along Route 15 in Blue Hill have apparently been stripped bare by caterpillars.

“There’s a crapload of them all over the place, and my mother is right in the middle of it,” Osborn said. “The roads look like they’re freshly paved from all the caterpillar guts. It is pretty nasty, really.”

“It looks like fall, out that way,” said Granger, a 37-year-old waitress and bartender at Marlintini’s Grill at 83 Mines Road, of the trees that have been eaten bare by the insects.

Video shot by Margaret Tufts shows caterpillars swarming over an outside wall of her home, with her groaning in disgust. Tufts said the caterpillars have “kind of driven us in our house and then out of our house just to get away from them.”

“Every time we walk to 0ur cars, there’s a popping noise because they explode underfoot,” she said. “It sounds like you are walking on bubble wrap.”

Nick Sambides Jr. | BDN
Nick Sambides Jr. | BDN
The Tufts family of Blue Hill has tried to avoid using pesticides in its battle with forest tent caterpillars. Vaseline and duct tape have managed to keep the critters at bay.

The Blue Hill infestors are forest tent caterpillars, a native species that have shoe-print shaped whitish spots, said John Bott, a spokesman for the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry.

Their favorite hosts are oak, poplar, maple and birch trees, according to a University of Maine webpage. The caterpillars mature in June, with adult moths appearing by July 1. Hatching a generation a year, they can denude forests for up to five years. Higher defoliating populations drop after two years due to weather, parasites and disease, according to the UM page.

“We did have a heavy year last year for caterpillars. It’s likely to be just as heavy this year,” Bott said. “It is unusual to have [the state] post something on a road for being slippery because of caterpillars. That doesn’t happen too often.”

People speculate that the caterpillars find the ponds’ humidity and water a good source of regeneration. Others have claimed that a dry spring season this year is responsible, Tufts said.

“People have said, ‘Wow, I remember when that happened in 1970.’ That was the last time it was this bad,” she said.

The Tufts haven’t hired an exterminator or sprayed chemicals because they don’t want to harm anything else. Instead, they are wrapping duct tape around tree trunks and covering it with petroleum jelly, she said.

Tufts said she could see her family moving away if the infestation becomes a more regular event.

“It is really not pleasant,” Tufts said. “You can hear them in the trees, chewing.”

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