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Tent Caterpillars Causing Area Power Outages

Tent Caterpillars Causing Area Power Outages

Spring has sprung in East Texas, but you may have noticed more than just bluebonnets popping up around your home and garden.

A recent outbreak of “tent caterpillars” has left some Sam Houston Electric Cooperative members in the dark. The colorful, 1-1/2-inch caterpillars hatch by the millions covering homes, trees and even electrical equipment.

“The caterpillars can completely cover a piece of electrical equipment,” said Sam Houston Electric Cooperative line technician Virgil Cain. “They can actually disrupt the insulating ability of the equipment and cause a power outage.”

Over the past week, Sam Houston EC members have experienced dozens of power outages caused by the caterpillars. Cain added that in most cases, they gradually engulf a transformer and the fuse blows.

The caterpillars hatch from eggs in early spring and mostly feed on leaves, particularly oaks. According to Texas A&M AgriLIFE, they can defoliate a tree to the point of causing permanent damage.

“We’ve seen what drought and beetles can do to our trees in recent years,” said Sam Houston Electric Cooperative chief operations officer David Babcock. “The caterpillars could potentially be another nuisance and obstacle for our right-of-way maintenance program as well.”

Babcock continued to explain that when a tree is permanently damaged, it becomes a risk for falling on power lines and causing power outages.

Eventually, the caterpillars form cocoons and emerge as brown and yellowish moths with wingspans of about one inch. Though the moths do not feed on vegetation, they do lay eggs beginning the life cycle over again.

For more information and tips on how to control these insects, visit Texas A&M’s AgriLIFE Extension services.