Creepy tents form on Southern Arizona's mountains

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Creepy tents form on Southern Arizona's mountains

By Justin Schecker. CREATED Jun 21, 2013

SUMMERHAVEN, Ariz. (KGUN9-TV) -  If you've visited some of Southern Arizona's mountains lately, you may have encountered creepy looking white formations hanging on tree limbs.

The white silky tents are not from the latest science fiction film; they're tent caterpillars. 

Scientists studying our region like the University of Arizona's John Palting say this spring there was a caterpillar population boom. More caterpillars come with more of these springtime shelters where they begin transforming into moths, Palting said.  

"They're considered pests because they do defoliate the trees," Palting said. "Just a week ago a lot of these trees were nearly leafless."

By now, most of the caterpillars on Mount Lemmon are in there cocoons, which means its harder to spot their silk tents in the trees. Most of the leaves have quickly grown back. The caterpillar tents will wash away during monsoon and wont reappear until next spring. 

With trees sprouting up again ten years after the Aspen Fire, it is no surprise there were more caterpillars than usual on Mt. Lemmon, Palting said. 

"When you have a lot of the food plant, there's a lot of opportunity for the caterpillars to develop," he said. 

But nature has its checks and balances.
"There's a large number of flies and wasps that control these things and keep their populations down," Palting said.
So next spring, don't expect to see as many of these creepy tents taking over a mountain near you. 
Justin Schecker

Justin Schecker

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Justin Schecker reports for KGUN 9 ON Your Side at 5:00, 6:00 and 10:00. He joined KGUN9 in September of 2012 and spent his first year in Tucson covering overnight breaking news for Good Morning Tucson.