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Rare caterpillar outbreak in North Okanagan has government officials investigating

A suspected outbreak of Western yellow striped armyworms is being investigated in the Armstrong, Enderby and Spallumcheen areas.
August 02, 2018 - 9:00 PM

NORTH OKANAGAN - A caterpillar outbreak in the North Okanagan has the Ministry of Agriculture on alert.

Officials are investigating the appearance of hundreds of thousands of unusual caterpillars in the Enderby, Armstrong and Spallumcheen areas.

Provincial entomologist with the Ministry of Agriculture Susanna Acheampong says her office was informed of the outbreak last month after farmers and gardeners started noticing damage from the voracious eaters.

Preliminary investigation suggests the species is the Western yellowstriped armyworm.

“In the past ten years I have never heard a report of armyworms in this area,” Acheampong says. “In talking to some farmers who have been here 40 to 50 years, they’ve never seen it before.”

Acheampong visited the affected areas earlier this week to assess the outbreak and gather anecdotal reports from residents. Ministry staff will collect adult samples (moths) later this summer to confirm the identification.

“It’s very concerning because some of the places we visited we saw a lot of damage,” Acheampong says. “There are huge numbers of them. One person told us the road was just covered in them.”

The bugs come in large numbers, which is how they got the name ‘armyworm’ Acheampong says.

The caterpillars are feeding on everything from garden vegetables to hay fields. Fortunately, many farmers have already cut their hay fields so the damage was mitigated, Acheampong says.

Image Credit: Brandy Rempel

Armstrong resident Brandy Rempel says thousands of the bugs appeared on her driveway a week ago and have almost completely destroyed her hosta plants.

“At first, I thought it was grasshoppers, which I also thought odd, as they don’t usually eat them (hostas). Then I saw one of the caterpillars. All different sizes, under the leaves, on the edges, stems, munching away,” she says.

It’s likely that what iNFOnews.ca earlier reported as a suspected outbreak of the Western tent caterpillar was in fact the armyworm. Tent caterpillars are, however, also seeing high numbers all across Canada this year. 

There was an armyworm outbreak last summer on Vancouver Island and in the Fraser Valley, however Acheampong says that was what’s called a “true armyworm” and a different species from the Western yellowstriped armyworm.

Once the ministry positively identifies the caterpillar it will be able to help farmers and gardeners figure out what to do about them. Many of the same products used for true armyworms would likely be effective on the Western yellowstriped armyworm, Acheampong says.

The Ministry of Agriculture wants to hear from anyone who has armyworms in their area and has not yet reported it, especially if it is outside the known areas of Enderby, Armstrong and Spallumcheen. The ministry is also asking people to send in photos of moths if they come across them.

From Aug. 3 to Aug. 15, contact Tracy Hueppelsheuser, B.C. Ministry of Agriculture, Abbotsford, at Tracy.Hueppelsheuser@gov.bc.ca or phone by phone at 604-556-3031. 
After August 15, contact Susanna Acheampong, B.C. Ministry of Agriculture, Kelowna, at Susanna.Acheampong@gov.bc.ca or by phone at 250-861-7681.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Charlotte Helston or call 250-309-5230 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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