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Heavy rains in Dallas-Fort Worth area have led to an inchworm outbreak

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

Caterpillars are creeping their way across North Texas, feasting on foliage and leaving yards covered in silk. Member station KERA's Jacob Wells reports.

JACOB WELLS, BYLINE: Dallas-Fort Worth residents are facing an infestation of tiny, green cankerworms and hackberry leafrollers. They're about half an inch to an inch long and have segmented bodies. One is kind of cute, but hundreds, like there are in Steven Horvath's yard, are kind of gross.

STEVEN HORVATH: I thought it was kind of neat and fun at first.

WELLS: Horvath lives in Fort Worth. He first spotted the caterpillars two weeks ago. They dangled from his back door frame and the trees in his backyard. They've devoured the leaves and blanketed his patio furniture, his shed and even a stepladder with shimmering worm web. And then, they moved inside.

HORVATH: My son said that he found one in his lunchbox. You know, my wife doesn't like them in the house. So they do drop - you know, you have to be careful when you're cooking that they're not dropping down from the ceiling into your food.

WELLS: These caterpillars normally come out in the spring. But Wizzie Brown, a pest expert with Texas A&M, says recent heavy rains after a dry summer may have sent the signal for these springtime bugs to hatch again.

WIZZIE BROWN: Environmental conditions have just kind of made it where they're hatching out now and kind of doing their thing and trying to get their life cycle in before, you know, winter comes.

WELLS: This outbreak is a nuisance to Dallas-Fort Worth residents who are left to clean up the webbing that's covered their trees, backyards and outdoor decorations. Brown says while it's frustrating, people don't need to worry about long-term damage to their trees.

BROWN: Most of the reports I've been getting is that they are feeding on pecan trees and hackberry trees, both of which are going to drop their leaves in the coming months anyway.

WELLS: Some people are buying pesticides to try to combat the infestation. But Horvath, who teaches middle school science, decided against it.

HORVATH: The research I did said, like, you know, any kind of pesticides you're going to use would harm a bunch of the other beneficial insects, and it wouldn't even be effective 'cause there is so many.

WELLS: While many residents think the caterpillar infestation and the cleanup is for the birds, Brown says it really is. They're a feast for birds now migrating through Texas.

For NPR News, I'm Jacob Wells. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Jacob Wells