Tent caterpillars defoliate Peace Country

Alberta's Peace Country is being invaded by tent caterpillars.

Infestation makes it impossible to enjoy outdoors

Entire forests are defoliated near Peace River, Alta., by an infestation of forest tent caterpillars. (ERSD)

Alberta's Peace Country is being invaded by tent caterpillars.

Tent caterpillars follow a seven to 10 year outbreak cycle. (Government of Alberta)

The infestation of forest tent caterpillars is defoliating aspen trees around Peace River, Grande Prairie, High Prairie and Whitecourt.

The invasion is making it difficult to enjoy time outdoors, said residents.

"It's pretty creepy because they move very quickly and they move," said Lorie Payne who lives in Peace River. "If there's a bit of a wind, sometimes you find them...blown into your hair. And it makes it not very pleasant to stay outside.

Caterpillars on the wall of a Peace River home. (Lorie Payne)

"You brush three or four off on one pant leg and the next thing you know, they're on your arm," she said. "And they like to get into your shoe."

The ravenous caterpillars have eaten all the leaves from her trees and carpetted her soffits in cocoons.

While some of the trees may die because of the caterpillars, most will survive with leaves growing back over the summer, say forestry experts.

The caterpillar explosion will last another four to seven years, said Mike Maximchuk, forest health officer with Environment and Sustainable Resource Development.

"I've had people call me and ask me, 'I'm going to have a wedding next year and are these caterpillars going to be around next year because my wedding is out doors and I don't want these caterpillars to be crawling around,'" he said.

The caterpillars are expected to reach the pupae stage around the end of June or the beginning of July.