Infestation of gypsy moth caterpillars hits Buchanan

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Folks in Buchanan are calling it a living nightmare.

Gypsy moth caterpillars have invaded a rural neighborhood, and there's little homeowners can do to fend off the creepy crawlers.

Experts tell us while gypsy moth outbreaks have happened in other parts of Michigan, they're uncommon in Southwest Michigan!

So for some unlucky families in South Buchanan, a usually enjoyable summer turns into a season full of scratching, sweeping, and squashing.

“I took the fly swatter and just swatted them just continuously, non-stop,” said middle schooler Cole Hollis.

But that’s like fighting a fire with a garden hose.

“It doesn’t do anything… I just kept swatting until the swatter broke,” Cole said.

The Hollis family and their neighbors are dealing with a true gypsy moth caterpillar infestation.

“On my own property alone, I own 2 acres, and it’s up in the millions. I’m sure there's probably a million on my house,” said Mike Hollis, Cole’s father.

Entomologists say the caterpillars are usually warded off by predators, or by fungus that kills them off.

“You have a pocket here or there that will escape and that pocket will be pretty sizable, maybe a square mile of an area. It can be pretty unpleasant in that area,” said Purdue Entomologist Clifford Sadof.

“They're a menace!” said Max Carter, who lives next door to the Hollis family on Curran Rd. in Buchanan.

These families were unlucky their homes were in that pocket, that is likely a square mile or two wide.

“The (Michigan) Department of Agriculture told us it was too late to spray for them this year,” Carter said.

In the meantime, the caterpillars have defoliated many of the nearby trees. So instead of beautiful leaves on trees...

“You get poop!” Carter said, laughing.

“It's just really unpleasant to have a caterpillar poop on you head, that sort of stuff and see these things crawl in your house; it's just downright creepy,” Sadof said.

Even the one demographic that usually likes bugs, has had enough!

“They just crawl all over until they eventually die just get squashed and guts go everywhere,” Cole said as he stepped on a few of the caterpillars.

“I hope something can be done soon. I mean whether they come in and spray for it; it's definitely a problem... More of a plague I guess,” Mike Hollis said.

Carter says his family contacted the Michigan Department of Agriculture, who wasn’t able to take any steps to prevent the outbreak this year. He says there had been a smaller amount of the gypsy moths last year.

His family hopes the Department of Agriculture sprays for the moths early enough next year for it to be effective.

They've also been told there's a similar problem in Niles this year.

Meantime, Sadof says this does work in cycles. He says many times, the fungus that usually keeps the moths in check might do a better job next year, or at least push them to another area.

He also urges people living nearby to make sure they don’t accidentally transport some of the caterpillars on the car or body when they leave the area. That could allow the gypsy moths to reproduce in another area, and potentially create another outbreak.