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Invasion of the worms

Crawly critters infest area of downtown

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The Elm Spanworm infests Edmonton Street.

BORIS MINKEVICH / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Enlarge Image

The Elm Spanworm infests Edmonton Street. Photo Store

Beware the elm spanworm.

They’re eating leaves, dripping from trees, trailing silky threads and dropping on unsuspecting pedestrians.

The worm, another type of tree-pillager that has joined the forest tent caterpillar, has infested a downtown area along Assiniboine Avenue between the legislative building and Carlton Street.

Help is coming soon, though.

Ken Nawolsky, the City of Winnipeg superintendent of insect control, said a crew will spray the creepycrawlers today, weather permitting.

"The elm spanworm, these worms tend to make an appearance about every four to five years, in different parts of the city," he said. "Normally they are in the Charleswood area; we’ve noticed them now in the downtown area."

He said the concentration of the worms seems to range from the Assiniboine River to Broadway.

The worms are clustering on apartment building walls and doorways and dropping onto the heads, arms and backs of passersby.

While forest tent caterpillars have been reported in locations around the city, the elm spanworm seems to be concentrated in about four blocks between Broadway and Assiniboine Avenue. The south part of Edmonton Street is wriggling with worms.

"It is pretty gross to look at. It’s just a lot all at once," said Jose Castellanos, 25, who lives in one of the apartment buildings on Edmonton Street. Worms have been clustering on the front door, the front flower beds, all over nearby trees and even covering parking meters.

He said the building’s caretaker has cleaned them off a few times but they keep coming back.

"I just avoid the front door completely," Castellanos said. "I noticed them a little over two weeks ago when things started getting warm and green, and I guess they must have hatched. If I have to go to the bus stop on Main (Street), I just go out the back and avoid it (the infested areas) completely."

Nawolsky said the city plans to begin spraying at about 4 a.m. today, provided it doesn’t rain, and treat the four-block area with a biological product called BTK. It takes about 12 hours for the elm spanworms to consume the product, and within about 48 hours, the worms die off.

Taz Stuart, the director of technical operations for Poulin’s Pest Control, said a concentration like this, which is obviously damaging the trees, would likely result from an infestation over a couple of years.

"An educated guess would be that you probably had moths blown into that area, and there was susceptible hardwood trees such as the elms that are along that street, on Edmonton especially," said Stuart, who inspected the area Thursday morning. "The worms, over the past year or so, have increased to the point where people are noticing them and you’re seeing them at a problem level."

On private property, Stuart said people can choose to treat the worms with stronger products that act faster.

"Homeowners who don’t want to wait three to five days can use products we have that are contact insecticides that would kill the worms instantly and be a very rapid solution," Stuart said.

Stuart said the elm spanworm has a golden head and black body and tends to be found in concentrated areas.

The forest tent caterpillars have furry spines on them with blue dots and white lines. Forest tent caterpillars are more of a general feeder and more widespread.

In a week’s time, when the spanworm’s lifecycle ends, Stuart said the worms will burrow and cocoon in the ground or any crevasses and emerge as white moths, which lay the eggs. Forest tent caterpillars become a golden brown moth with two brown lines.

ashley.prest@freepress.mb.ca

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