St. Lazare plagued by so many caterpillars they're burying them in pails

One woman who lives near the Manitoba community of St. Lazare says the forest tent caterpillars are so bad on her property they've tried everything from shovelling them into pails and burying them to setting them on fire. But they keep coming back.

Woman near Manitoba village says she's never seen anything like the carpet of forest tent caterpillars

The layer of forest tent caterpillars is so thick in St.Lazar, Man., that one couple is using a shovel to pick them up. (Haley Blouin)

Haley Blouin loves her brand new house near St.Lazare, Man. — about 120 kilometres northwest of Brandon — but right now she wants to set fire to it because of the dense carpet of forest tent caterpillars covering almost every surface.

"They are just all over, like in oodles of big packs," Blouin said. "They're just disgusting, all over the place."

Haley Blouin's husband, Josef, has started shovelling the caterpillars into five-gallon pails and burying them. They're up to five pails but not making a dent in the hundreds of thousands of caterpillars. (Haley Blouin)

The forest tent caterpillar infestation is approaching its peak, with several areas in Manitoba — including the province's southwestern corner — seeing a particularly high number of the creepy crawlers.

Blouin's property seems to be especially popular.

"We've been putting them in five-gallon pails, digging holes and then burying them," Blouin said.

"Probably not the most humane thing to do."

They've buried five pails so far, but that hasn't made a dent in the number of caterpillars on and around her property.

Trees in the St. Lazare area are thick with webs such as this one from the forest tent caterpillar infestation. (Connie Chartier Tanguay)
Blouin has also used a hose to try and spray them off her house so she can leave the home.

"We have absolutely no leaves so it looks like we're either in the fall or middle of winter because there are no leaves in our yard," Blouin said.

Taz Stuart, former city of Winnipeg entomologist and current director of technical operations at Poulin's Pest Control Services, said the caterpillars are at the top of their 10- to 13-year peak in Manitoba.

"We're probably in it or on the latter side of it, so you should start seeing numbers decrease over the next couple years," Stuart said.

Saskatchewan is also seeing a massive infestation of forest tent caterpillars.

Forest tent caterpillars crawling across Highway 41 near St. Lazar. (Connie Chartier Tanguay)
For now, the insects are a creepy problem for Blouin, who said Highway 41 near her home looks like it's moving because of the layer of caterpillars crawling across it.

"It's like a black smudge across the laneway. It's just crawling," Blouin said.

The good news for those who don't like the caterpillars is that they should be reaching their highest numbers of the season now, Stuart said. They will soon begin to pupate and turn into moths.

"I hope so, because I don't know if I can deal with this for any longer. It's disgusting," Blouin said.

"I've been going to my mom and dad's house every day to go and just walk around because I just can't stand hearing them crunch and fall off of my house." 

She said the situation is bad enough that her husband, Josef, has even tried burning the insects.

"He put gas on them and then burnt them. It was like a bonfire," Blouin said.

"It smelled like hot dogs."

Tent caterpillars cross HIghway 41 near Saint-Lazare, Manitoba. 0:04