A major infestation of tent caterpillars has hit the town of Red Lake.

Trees are being stripped bare and vehicles are being coated in caterpillars and their feces.

The caterpillars didn't seem bad at first, but they’ve recently exploded in numbers, said Red Lake resident Tracy Herold.

defoliated trees

The leaves on deciduous trees are the prime feeding ground for tent caterpillars. (Tracy Herold)

“It is awful, it is disgusting. You know as you are driving along, first of all, you hear the sounds that they make, right? It sound like popcorn as you are driving over them. Which is disgusting enough. And then, you are seeing the areas on the highway that are brown and green in colour.”

The rain helps to wash the bugs from the local highways, Herold said, but noted it's sad to see all the leaves the caterpillars have eaten off the trees.

Thunder Bay entomologist Ken Deacon said the infestation is part of a 10-year cycle, and the city won't be spared.

“I would say that we will be getting it next year. They are on their way,” he said.

“There may [already] be a few around town, [as] there usually should be, before the onset of an outbreak.”

Deacon said the tent caterpillars are healthy for the woods, as their decaying corpses provide nutrients and the defoliation they induce increases light penetration to the forest floor.

The denuded trees usually recover and grow new leaves in July, he added.